For a moment early during the Ravens’ fifth training camp practice Monday morning, new inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan, the person perhaps most responsible for ensuring a successful second-year jump from Patrick Queen, stopped him in the middle of a coverage drill.
The two went back-and-forth before Queen settled back into the drill, backpedaling into zone coverage and breaking on a pass from Ryan.
“We were playing a coverage and I haven’t taught it well,” Ryan explained after practice. “I was teaching French ... and I realized, ‘Oh, I need to use English.’ So, I did that and now he’s going to be much better.”
The pairing of Ryan — the twin brother of former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, and just as boisterous — with Queen, soft-spoken but self-assured, will be closely monitored as the team looks for Queen to fully tap into his potential going forward.
Entering his second season in the middle of the Ravens’ defense — and after completing his first normal offseason workout program — Queen, the 28th overall pick in the 2020 draft, is feeling more comfortable as he aims to build on a rookie season that was full of highlights but provided plenty of room for improvement.
“I’m way more comfortable now,” Queen said. “We had minicamp; I came in. [Defensive coordinator Don] ‘Wink’ [Martindale] asked me to come in a lot, so I came in, and we just got to work. Since then, I feel like I’m going up, so it’s only up from here. I feel like I’m way more confident, I’m way more into the defense, so it’s going to be a good season.”
Even as Queen was slotted into the middle of the Ravens’ defense from Day 1 and garnered consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year, he said he still felt like a rookie throughout the season. He led the Ravens in tackles (105) but left plays on the field; his 12 missed tackles were second-most in the NFL, according to Pro-Football-Reference. And Queen struggled in pass coverage, often a step slow in diagnosing route concepts and keeping up with running backs and tight ends.
“It’s a tough defense, I ain’t going to lie,” Queen said. “It’s tough to get, but once you get it and it clicks … You could see with Chuck [Clark] and DeShon [Elliott] and all those veterans, they’re like, ‘When it clicks, it clicks.’ So, that’s just the level I’m trying to get to right now. I’m trying to get to where it clicks and I can just play free. So, once I get there, you all will know, for sure.”
The offseason was a crucial first step in Queen’s continued development. During minicamp, which was in-person after the coronavirus pandemic forced last year’s sessions to be conducted virtually, Queen revealed that it took him until Week 5 to get into peak football shape. This offseason, he had a more consistent training regimen, which included working on his coverage drops.
The Ravens’ first five practices have been noncontact — padded practices begin Tuesday — so much of Queen’s work in team drills has consisted of recognizing plays and getting to the spot where he’d make a play on the ball or runner. Queen admitted the offense got behind him on one play but said his pass defense Monday was otherwise “shutdown.”
“I thought he had a really good day today in coverage,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You could see the things that sometimes people talk about as far as the experience in coverage — he had an excellent day. Rob Ryan is doing a great job. [Queen is] doing a great job. It was a nice day for him in coverage there today.”
On a defense that finished top-five in points and yards allowed in 2020 and returns the majority of its starters, Queen’s growth will be vital for the unit to sustain — and maybe even improve — last season’s standing. And Queen’s coaches and teammates believe he has not only the athleticism but the right mindset to marry his highlight plays with more consistency from play to play in 2021.
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“You know, it’s not too often you come into a place with such a great talent and a guy who’s just striving for more,” Ryan said. “And he’s such a smart guy. Like, people know he’s physical and he’s athletic. But you don’t realize how smart he is. He’s a big thinker. He loves this team. He’s going to be a terrific leader for this team. And he’s going to be fantastic this year, I know that. There’s no reason for him not to be.”