Listening to Calais Campbell describe his first 10 days as a Raven, you would not guess he’s about to begin his 13th NFL season or strive for his sixth Pro Bowl selection.
“The first thing you do when you come to a new team is you want to just show people your work ethic and how hard you’re willing to grind, try to earn their respect,” the veteran defensive end said. “So I’ve spent the last couple weeks, and really the offseason program that we had virtually, just trying to earn my teammates’ respect.”
Of course, that’s easier when you’re universally acknowledged as one of the best all-around defenders in football.
“I do know that I have some history,” he said with an easy grin as he spoke to Baltimore media members on a Zoom call Friday.
Campbell’s enthusiasm for his craft and his new setting radiated, even over the virtual connection.
He’ll turn 34 next month and knows what it’s like to join a new team. He moved from the Arizona Cardinals to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, and the results — a career-high 14½ sacks and a turnaround from 3-13 also-ran to 10-6 division winner — were spectacular.
After two more Pro Bowl seasons, the Jaguars traded him to Baltimore for a fifth-round pick. The stakes are different this time. No one will sleep on the Ravens after they won 14 games last season. Campbell’s job is not to change the team’s culture so much as to top off a machine that was already purring splendidly.
So far so good, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
“He’s a leader. He’s already a leader,” Harbaugh said. “He knows the structures of defenses; there’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. He needs to learn the terminology. He’s doing that seamlessly. It’s been great.”
Ravens coaches have told Campbell they expect the best season of his career. That means at least 15 sacks, he joked, noting the figure should be easier to attain with a star-studded secondary behind him.
Campbell’s appreciation for his new team is palpable. He described defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale as a “genius” for his ability to blend simple concepts with seemingly endless variations. He’s a fan of Martindale’s simulated blitzes, which leave opponents guessing between eight potential pass rushers on each down.
He promised opponents will face a hellacious challenge trying to run against a front seven featuring him, fellow new addition Derek Wolfe and returning nose tackle Brandon Williams.
“We’re going to be great together,” he said. “Just these first couple of weeks, getting out there with the guys and seeing their level of understanding of the game, it’s great to have that kind of veteran talent in one place. Guys who are physically strong and have imposed their will time and time again but also have the knowledge of how people try to attack us. … I love playing with guys who are old and wise like myself.”
The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell will try to build on his legacy in a season like no other. He served on the NFL Players Association committee that helped devise protocols for coping with the coronavirus pandemic, so he knows the risks as well as anyone. He gave sober thought to whether he should play this season, given that he suffers from asthma.
“I considered it,” he said of opting out. “You have to.”
Campbell has faith that the league and union have done the best they can to create safe workplaces. He was among the players who supported fines and suspensions for those who go to bars or indoor gatherings without personal protective equipment.
“All the players wanted to be held accountable to a degree,” he said. “Obviously, the NFLPA’s job is to protect the players at all cost. Even when they’re wrong, you have to try to help them through the process. But all the players were unanimous in making sure there was some kind of consequence. Obviously, you want to live your life and do as much as you can to keep your routine the same, but you can’t just go and put everybody at risk by doing something dumb.”
The pandemic has wiped away training camp routines that are second nature to a veteran such as Campbell. Masks and glass partitions between lockers represent the new normal, with full practices still more than a week away. One routine Campbell won’t miss is preparing for preseason games, which have been canceled.
“Who really gets hurt with no preseason games are the young guys, the undrafted free agents,” he said. “There’s usually a couple diamonds in the rough that are going to be harder to be spotted. … But for me personally, I don’t need any preseason games. I’ll be ready to go Week 1.”
Campbell is eager to learn the Baltimore community and figure out where he can help. In February, he was named Walter Payton Man of the Year, the highest honor the league bestows for off-field activities.
“It’s just in my nature,” he said. “My parents were really strong on being active in the community, so I try to make my presence felt.”
But for now, he’s more focused on learning the Ravens locker room, whether by eavesdropping on conversations between quarterback Lamar Jackson, wide receiver Marquise Brown and running back Mark Ingram II or offering words of experience to rookie defensive linemen Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington.
“I think we’re going to have to depend on them, and I want to make sure they’re ready,” he said.
Campbell urges younger teammates to set small, daily goals that will build to larger achievements.
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“You can’t win the Super Bowl today,” he tells them. “I don’t care how good you are in August. You’ve got to go through the process. You can’t even win the first game today. It’s still a month away. So right now, it’s just trying to make sure we take advantage of what’s in front of us.”