Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale can’t say for certain whether the team is in the market for another edge rusher, a veteran like Justin Houston or Melvin Ingram.
“I think that’s a question for Eric and Harbs,” Martindale joked in a conference call with season-ticket holders Tuesday night, referring to general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh. But he didn’t sound worried, either.
“I’m really happy with what we have right now and where we’re going with it,” he said. And what the Ravens have now are two more draft picks and a third-year player whom Martindale believes might be ready to break out.
Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, who has 4 ½ sacks over his first two years, is “on the rise,” said Martindale, who’s expecting big things from the former third-round pick in 2021. “He’s in great shape. His mind’s in the right place. He’s working on the right things that’s going to help us win.”
Ferguson is in the mix at outside linebacker along with veterans Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee and rookies Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes. Oweh, the Ravens’ No. 31 overall pick, “checks so many boxes,” said Martindale, despite not having any sacks in a shortened 2020 season at Penn State.
“I think that when you’re evaluating a player, you look at all the great things he does,” Martindale said. “How he plays against the run on first and second down was better than any outside ‘backer I’ve seen in a long time. And then you’ve got a guy that’s 6 [foot] 5 ... that runs a 4.3[-second] 40[-yard dash], and you watched his workout, you’re like, ‘My goodness.’
“And he’s only played football for five years. That’s why I’m talking about him being raw. But the thing of it is, there’s things he does right now in practice that’s better than what our veterans can do. And he’s just learning it, too. He doesn’t even have the technique perfected. But there’s things that he does that he’s better than some of the veterans can do. And that’s what’s exciting about him. And on top of that, he’s a great person. He wants to be great, and he checks all those boxes. And I guarantee, he’s going to be on the quarterback. He’s going to hit the quarterback, so don’t worry about that.”
Martindale said Hayes, a fifth-round pick from Notre Dame, also projects as a first-year contributor.
“It’s a place [Notre Dame] where if they tell you that he’s the guy, that means he’s a leader,” he said. “I know it’s going to take a little while for him to catch up to the speed of the pro game, but I’m really pleased with what he’s done [in] just the little time he’s been here. So if they make plays in college, they’ll make plays on Sunday in the pro game. And both those guys can make plays, and they do it in different ways.”
Martindale said he spoke Tuesday with cornerback Tavon Young, who’s recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in September. Young hasn’t been cleared to “go full speed” yet, Martindale said, but he’s expected to be fully healthy by the start of training camp.
“It may be sooner, I’m hoping,” Martindale said. “He looks great.”
Young missed the 2017 season with a torn ACL and the 2019 season with a neck injury. He’s played in just 17 games over the past four years.
“He’s going through some of the toughest things you can do as an athlete with the freak injuries that he’s had the last two years,” Martindale said. “And there’s nothing worse for a player to sit there and rehab an injury and not play the game that he worked so hard for to play, and I just think he’s one of the toughest players on the team.
“He’s our nickel [cornerback]. He’s quick. You guys know all the good things about him. He’s a playmaker for us. And I can’t wait to get him back on the field. And just like I told him ... you control the narrative. Nobody else does. So you get your mind right and say, ‘This is what I’m going to do this year’; that’s what you’re going to do. And he’s worked way too hard not to have any success. I’m just telling you that now, so I can’t wait for him to come back, and we’re definitely expecting him to come back sooner than later.”
As the Ravens have built an expensive and elite secondary, reporters have asked Harbaugh and DeCosta whether, in the modern NFL, the team saw greater value in pass defense than pass rush. Neither has taken a strong stand, preferring instead to talk about their goal of building the strongest defense possible.
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With Martindale, there was no equivocating.
“It’s one of those things that, if you were asking me, if you’re the owner of a team and I’m your head coach and it comes down to what do you want, I want as many cover corners as you can have,” he said. “Because the game is the passing game now. And I think sacks — we’re talking philosophical now; this is my opinion on it — I think sacks are one of the most superficial rankings there is. Because you look at guys that have a bunch of sacks, OK? There’s a lot of things that go into that.”
Martindale noted that Matthew Judon, who along with fellow edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue left Baltimore for free-agent paydays this offseason, was not only a “smart, good football player” but also someone who benefited from schemed-up quarterback pressures. Martindale said that was partly “a credit to the system of how we play,” an aggressive, blitz-heavy philosophy.
“My philosophy is, personally, I’d rather have a corner that can cover than a guy that can rush,” he said, “because I’ll get guys to hit quarterbacks.”
>> Martindale said he expects “big-time improvement” from the team’s inside linebackers, especially Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, after the hiring of position coach Rob Ryan. “The inside linebackers will play better than what they have in the last two years because he’s that good of a coach and he’s going to make that big of a difference.”
>> Martindale said undrafted rookie safety Ar’Darius Washington, the 2019 Big 12 Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year, impressed during rookie minicamp over the weekend. Washington is only 5-8 and ran an unofficial 4.61-second at his Texas Christian pro day, “but you can tell this guy’s a really good football player,” Martindale said.
>> With the Cleveland Browns drafting athletic linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round, Martindale was asked about the practicality of spying a quarterback like Lamar Jackson. “I think it can be effective, but I don’t think for a full half, it can be,” he said. “You’d better make sure that spy can catch Lamar, and I don’t know if there’s a defensive guy out there that can. ... [Owusu-Koramoah] is a heck of a football player, and he’ll hit you, but it’s a completely different game from what they were playing before [at Notre Dame].”