Two years and four picks separate Ravens teammates Brent Urban and Alex Lewis. Each was drafted in the fourth round — Urban in 2014 and Lewis in 2016 — with the idea that they could develop into solid NFL players.
Before injuries got in the way, Urban and Lewis had gone from being considered long-term projects to showing enough promise to merit such a premise. Now it’s a matter of whether each can prove he can stay healthy.
Urban, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound defensive end, missed his entire rookie year after tearing an ACL in training camp, then tore his biceps in training camp in 2015 and didn’t play for nearly four months. After playing in every game in 2016, Urban missed all but the first three games last season with what was diagnosed as a Lisfranc foot injury.
Lewis, a 6-6, 315-pound offensive guard and tackle, started eight of his first nine games as a rookie in 2016 before missing six games with an ankle injury. After returning for the last game of the season, Lewis sat out the entire 2017 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder suffered in training camp.
Though neither was the most significant player injured on his respective line last year, their absence certainly contributed to the Ravens missing the playoffs for a third straight season. Both players are anxiously awaiting Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game against the Chicago Bears in Canton, Ohio, where they’ll get their first live action in a while.
“It’s a blessing to be out there with my teammates and coaches,” Urban, 27, said Saturday after practice. “I really missed the game, obviously, being out for so long. Thankfully, camp starts a week early, and it gives me a period to acclimate to everything — the movements, pad level, all of that kind of stuff again. I think that preparation is going to really help me moving forward and just give me a little extra time to take the little steps I need instead of rushing into it.”
Said Lewis, 26: “The last [two] years have been frustrating, but this season is important. We want to get back to the playoffs. I've never been to the playoffs. We want to come out and show people that we're here to compete, we're the Ravens and we're going to 'Play like a Raven.' We're going to come out hard and hitting hard. We're excited for it. I don't really think of it as a big year; I think of it as every other year. I'm just going to go out there and do my job and think nothing else more."
While Urban is penciled in as a starter at defensive end, Lewis has moved around the offensive line during his first two seasons. Lewis, who is expected to start at left guard, also spent time as a rookie at left tackle when 2016 first-round draft pick Ronnie Stanley was out. Lewis has also recently shared repetitions at center with Matt Skura as the Ravens experimented with some of their run-pass-option formations in training camp.
"When you play center, you become essentially the quarterback of the offensive line,” said Lewis, who played mostly tackle at Nebraska. “It's very important that you're making the [middle linebacker] I.D., you're telling both sides what you're doing. You have to think really hard. It's got to become second nature, because you have to do it within a matter of two to three seconds. Boom — we're hiking it, we’ve got quick cadence. You’ve got to get up, get set and let's roll."
Asked how he felt being used at various spots on the line, and where he feels the most comfortable, Lewis said: “I love it, man. I'm back out on the field playing football again. I don't care where they put me at — center, guard, tackle, tight end, quarterback. I'm [going to] play some football."
That’s essentially how Urban feels as well.
Before he suffered the foot injury in last season’s embarrassing 44-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, Urban said he was just starting to feel comfortable in his transition from college at Virginia to the NFL.
“It was tough — definitely was a crappy thing that happened,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’d rather go down playing well than playing poorly. I guess that’s the one positive I can take out of that, where I was playing the best football I’ve ever played, honestly.”
Though statistics might not bear that out — he had just four tackles and no sacks last season — Urban said he is ready to step toward taking some of the pressure off his fellow defensive linemen.
Urban would like to be known as more than a guy who can block kicks. He has two in his brief career, including one that was returned by former Ravens safety Will Hill III for a last-second 64-yard touchdown to beat the Cleveland Browns in what was Urban’s first NFL game.
“I know where I can take it, and I have a watermark now where when I come back, I know where my body needs to be and what I’m good at,” said Urban, who has just 25 tackles and three sacks in 25 career games. “I guess [the injury] was helpful in a way.
“Obviously, the timing was poor, and I was just really coming into my own, but there’s a watermark there now, and I know what I need to do in order to get there again. … It’s been a while, and I feel like I need those live reps to really get back to where I was.”