The departure of middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, who left the Ravens in free agency to sign with the New York Jets, left a massive hole in the center of the Ravens defense.
Instead of adding to the position through free agency or the draft, the Ravens opted to increase roles for Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young, two young linebackers who split time at weak-side linebacker next to Mosley last season.
But after an embarrassing home loss to the Cleveland Browns in which Ravens linebackers struggled to stay in their gaps and stop the run, coach John Harbaugh decided the team needed more experience at the position.
Within three weeks, veterans L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes were signed. Young was demoted and later included in the trade with the Los Angeles Rams that brought in cornerback Marcus Peters.
And on Sunday, playing their second straight game without an injured Onwuasor, Fort and Bynes were at the center of the defense’s most impressive showing.
Bynes recorded a team-high eight tackles in the team’s 30-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks. The 30-year-old had an interception in his first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The following week against the Cincinnati Bengals, he deflected a pass that led to an interception.
Fort registered six tackles and a sack Sunday, bringing an interior pass rush that has often been missing in the Ravens defense.
“That’s just a testament to them,” linebackers coach Mike Macdonald said Tuesday of Fort and Bynes’ ability to learn the playbook quickly. “A guy like L.J., he’s been in the league for quite a while now, and he’s finally getting a good shot to go out there and show what he can do. ... And Josh, his tape last year was great, too. So they’re both good players.”
With Bynes taking Onwuasor’s spot at middle linebacker, Onwuasor has been able to return to the weak-side linebacker position, where he excelled last season.
“I think [Onwuasor is] more natural at the [weak-side] spot,” Macdonald said. “What happens is, when you’re over there, you’re a little bit more on the edge of the defense. There’s a little bit more blitzing to be involved in. He’s a great blitzer. So you’re really asking him to do the things that he’s naturally really gifted at doing, using his length, that sort of thing.”
With multiple injuries in the secondary affecting the special teams unit, Macdonald said all inside linebackers will have to contribute more.
Onwuasor’s expected return from an ankle injury after the bye week — he has missed the team’s past two games — should give the defense a consistent rotation of three inside linebackers, similar to last season.
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“I’m very much looking forward to it,” Macdonald said. “Those are three good players and I’m excited to see what ‘Peanut’ is doing now that he’s fully healthy. ... If you have a three-man role and you’re playing fast, I think we’re in the right spot.”