It's not necessarily anything linebacker Albert McClellan has seen to make him believe the Ravens' young edge rushers will be able to make up for the expected absences of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on Sunday against the New York Jets. It's more what he's heard.
Since the start of training camp, McClellan has listened as rookie linebackers Kamalei Correa and Matthew Judon have peppered veteran teammates with questions and concerns. He's heard the young pass rushers speak up in meetings and admit they are struggling to grasp a defensive concept.
"They're asking all the right questions. They're not afraid to ask for help," McClellan said. "That's a huge thing, as far as being a man, as far being a football player. At least I know they're interested, and not just saying, 'OK, I'm just here subbing.' They are ready to learn; they're ready to play."
The Ravens drafted Correa and Judon in the second and fifth rounds, respectively, hoping they'd make an immediate impact but also envisioning them as potential replacements for Suggs and Dumervil down the road. Their contributions are needed now.
With Suggs (torn left biceps) expected to miss at least one game and Dumervil (foot) out indefinitely, the Ravens will depend on second-year outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith in addition to Judon and Correa to jumpstart a pass rush that has been nonexistent at times this season. Through six games, the Ravens (3-3) have 11 total sacks, and Suggs has five of them.
The Ravens do not have a sack from an outside linebacker other than Suggs. McClellan, Smith, Judon and Correa have combined for just two quarterback hurries.
"They've got to play. That's what they were brought here to do," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Thursday, referring to Judon and Smith. "...They were brought here, they were drafted here. 'Hey, it's your turn. It's your time. Come play.' You want the opportunity, and they do. I'm thrilled with them. I like both of them. So we're going to throw them out there and we're going to see what happens."
Suggs delivered a similar message to Smith earlier this week, telling him, "It's your shot. It's your chance to do what you do. Coach brought you here for a reason.'"
"When he goes down," Smith said, "we really have to show up and make a name for ourselves."
To this point, aside from Suggs, the Ravens' outside linebackers have struggled to make a significant impact. After finishing his rookie season with 5 ½ sacks, including 3 ½ over his final three games, Smith has just one quarterback hit despite playing 251 snaps. Only Suggs has played more among outside linebackers. Smith struggled the first couple of weeks with an ankle injury, but he declined to use that as an excuse.
"I can say that every tackle that I have gone up against has played their best, and I didn't play at my best," said Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2015. "I have gone up against a lot of great tackles, but at the same time, I'm supposed to make a lot of plays and have been in position to make a lot of big plays. I just have to finish."
After a strong preseason, Judon, who led the nation with 21 sacks last year at Grand Valley State, hasn't had a ton of opportunities to get to quarterbacks. He's played in five games, totaling 79 defensive snaps.
Judon expressed confidence that the sacks will come in bunches, as they often do. His bigger concern is getting more comfortable with the Ravens' defensive schemes.
"With time comes comfort, but I'm really not comfortable right now," Judon said. "I'm still a rookie."
The same could be said about Correa, who had seven sacks last season for Boise State. The Ravens used him at both outside and inside linebacker during training camp, and Pees acknowledged that the team probably put too much on the rookie's plate too early.
So far, Correa's role has been mostly confined to special teams. He's played only 15 defensive snaps and he's yet to get on the defensive stat sheet. With McClellan, who started the first five games at strong-side linebacker, now needed to play on the inside because of middle linebacker C.J. Mosley's hamstring injury, Correa's role Sunday figures to expand.
"I'm not really comfortable all the way yet," Correa said. "It's always going to be a learning process. I think each and every day is always going to be a learning process so you can never have the mindset like, 'I'm established. I'm OK. I know I'm doing.' There's always room to improve, so I'm just working."
The Ravens certainly hope things start to come quicker for their young edge rushers. Earlier this season, the Ravens were able to get to the quarterback either with inside pressure mainly from Timmy Jernigan, with Suggs coming from the outside or with and the occasional well-timed blitz.
In a Week 4 loss to the Oakland Raiders, the game that started the team's current three-game losing skid, the Ravens didn't hit Raiders quarterback Derek Carr a single time. A week later against the Washington Redskins, they sacked Kirk Cousins just once. And in last Sunday's defeat at the hands of the New York Giants, the Ravens hit Eli Manning only twice, both times by Suggs.
Baltimore Ravens Insider
"I don't think there's anything wrong with the pass rush," Suggs said after the game. "That's what your job is, to find fault with some hole. But I think we're doing a good job there, and I think we're doing a good job stopping the run. We're going to continue to work."
Dumervil also defended the team's pass rush Thursday, calling the lack of sacks "misleading."
"I think overall as a defense, the guys are playing great," he said. "So I'm just working hard to try to get back and be with the guys."
Dumervil predicted that it's only a matter of time before Smith and Judon "cut loose," and start getting sacks. Without an accomplished veteran pass rusher in the lineup, the Ravens better hope that time is soon.
"I think we are different than the guys that they've had here in the past," Judon said. "Hopefully, we can go out and produce like the guys they've had here in the past."