Few players can reshape their body in such a short time the way Matthew Judon did.

A year ago, he was a rookie outside linebacker from Grand Valley State who had good power but carried too much weight. Now, after a strong offseason in the weight room during which he lost 15 pounds, he is on the verge of becoming possibly the team's best all-around linebacker.


No Ravens player can attest to that more than right tackle James Hurst, who has seen Judon every day in practice for the past two training camps.

"He's definitely got the burst," Hurst said. "Last year, I would say that he was more of a power guy. This year, he is more balanced. I think he dropped a little weight. So he's got that burst off the line to threaten you that maybe he didn't have in his rookie year.

Ryan Mallett will get opportunity Thursday to put tumultuous start to camp further behind

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that Mallett will play extensively in preseason opener.

"So, I think it's going to be great for him. I think we're going to see the results on the field in sacks when they pile up for him."

The sack total is likely to improve from a year ago, but the Ravens want to see more tackles. Judon is making the transition from rush linebacker to the strong side. He was a part-time "go fetch" type of player last season, and his main job was to get to the quarterback.

Now, he has to hold the perimeter. Instead of coming off the outside shoulder of a tackle, he has to take on tight ends on running plays. He also has to hold the edge, which means he is consistently meeting 320- to 335-pound pulling guards head on.

"I am cutting them all. Put that in the headlines for tomorrow," said Judon, laughing. "Pulling guards are getting cut. But seriously, this is a good opportunity for me. I am involved in getting more drops [into pass coverage] and I am moving around all over the field. It's good to be involved in more plays."

Judon could turn into one of the team's biggest success stories. He was a fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft but became a fan favorite last preseason with defensive tackle Michael Pierce as they kept contributing sacks.

James Hurst on giving up Ravens right tackle job to Austin Howard: ‘I want to be the starter’

Team gave Howard a big contract, but Hurst insists he is not willing to let go of the position that easily.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was reluctant to give Judon a lot of playing time because there were so many other players ahead of him like Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za'Darius Smith and Albert McClellan.

But it was hard to keep the 6-foot-3, 278-pound Judon on the bench. He had one style, and that was to play with power. It worked well enough to register 27 tackles and four sacks last season.

"I thought I had a pretty good rookie year and showed some flash," Judon said. "But I didn't feel I adapted to the length of the season. By the end, I was showing some wear and tear. I started getting tired.

"My goals in the offseason were to improve foot speed and hip flexibility. I wanted to play more downs at a higher speed. I wanted to be better out there."

Two weeks into training camp, he is one of the team's most improved players. That extra little pouch he carried around the midsection is gone. He doesn't look like a defensive end or big outside linebacker, but a tight end.

He is drawing praise from defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

"He cut a little weight and is moving better," said Pees. "I don't think him losing the weight is going to bother him run-wise or power-wise. I have noticed that he is moving quicker and is better in space. And we can move him around like we did with [former Ravens outside linebacker Pernell] McPhee."


Ravens news, notes and opinions on rising and falling stocks for 'bubble' guys and more

Games will tell the story, but the Ravens look like they'll have some tough decisions to make

Judon is part of a young linebacker corps that is causing excitement about the Ravens defense. Fourth-year inside linebacker C.J. Mosley has already been named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad twice, and the Ravens have two promising rookies in Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser.

If inside linebacker Kamalei Correa and Judon become consistent starters this season, the Ravens might have their most dominant group since the early 2000s with Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper and Ray Lewis.

"Ever since Ray, Jameel [McClain] and Dannell [Ellerbe] left, we've had new linebackers every year," Pees said. "I like this group. They are working real hard. But when the fur flies, it's a different game. Out here in camp, we have more control. They know when it's inside run or pass. We'll see what happens when it's game time and the emotions are there. If we can get our assignments and alignments in that first game against the Redskins, I will be happy."

Said Judon: "We are well into training camp now. It's game time Thursday night. It's time to go out and make some plays, and this year I think I can do that because I'm a little lighter."

And of course, a lot better.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun