In his first career start at inside linebacker, Josh Bynes led the Ravens with a career-best 13 tackles (11 solo) and broke up one pass in Sunday's 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.
That Bynes has even returned to the field is a remarkable story considering his ordeal in the preseason.
He suffered a cracked vertebrae during a goal-line scrimmage close to the beginning of training camp. He needed six weeks to recover, was waived by the team on Aug. 31, and then added to the practice squad the next day.
Bynes was promoted to the 53-man active roster Oct. 17 when the Ravens moved 13-time Pro Bowler Ray Lewis to the injured reserve list with a designation for return. But Bynes never envisioned starting for Lewis (torn right triceps), Jameel McClain (spinal cord contusion) and Dannell Ellerbe (sprained right knee/left foot).
"At the beginning of the season, I didn't think I'd be able to play this year after my injury during camp," Bynes said. "But to come back from that – being on the practice squad and then actually end up playing midway through the season – it's a blessing. It's a great opportunity, and I'm ready for each and every opportunity after that."
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was similarly stunned by Bynes' recovery, but said he noticed several traits shared by McClain, Ellerbe and Bynes – all undrafted rookies who landed with the team – that have helped them in their careers.
"One, they're tough. No. 2 is they're smart," Pees said. "And when you've got those two ingredients, when you're tough and you're smart and you can play linebacker, you've got a chance to play."
Bynes' first career start against Denver wasn't error-free. He did get caught running inside when running back Knowshon Moreno took a handoff and ran through a hole created on the right side for a 6-yard touchdown.
Bynes said there's room for improvement and cited Lewis as an example.
"I think I did all right. I still made some mistakes," Bynes said. "There's always stuff you've got to get better at. I'm not saying that I'm good or I'm satisfied. I'm never satisfied. I've never been that kind of guy. I always see there's room for improvement. I see I've got to grow as a player. I'm young, and I've still got a lot and lot of things to grow and prepare for as I get older in my career. Ray's been in the league for 17 years, and he still says to this day that you've got to improve, you've got to get better, and I still feel the same way."