The Ravens have long tapped their starting middle linebacker to wear the helmet with radio communication and pass calls to the rest of the defense.
First it was Ray Lewis. Then Daryl Smith. After that was C.J. Mosley. When Mosley left the Ravens in free agency to sign with the New York Jets, fourth-year linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was next in line to shoulder the responsibility of getting the defense aligned.
Onwuasor’s first assignment against the Miami Dolphins went smoothly, as the Ravens defense allowed 10 points and forced two turnovers, while avoiding costly errors. As Mosley often did, Onwusaor was on the field for virtually every defensive snap. He led the team with six tackles, along with one sack and a pass breakup.
“I don’t feel like I’m ‘the man,’ but having a headset, I’ve been practicing that going on two years now," Onwuasor said. "It’s been great communicating with Coach Wink [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] and to the guys.”
Martindale acknowledged Onwuasor’s demeanor contrasts from the inside linebackers of the Ravens’ past.
“It’s different because every guy’s personality is different,” Martindale said. “From Ray to ‘Buck’ [Daryl Smith], to C.J. All their personalities are different, [it’s] the same thing with Peanut. Peanut runs with a hotter engine. So I usually wait a play on the bench and let him cool down before I go over and talk to him."
Sharing at weak side
As Onwuasaor slid over to take the reins as the team’s starting middle linebacker, competition opened between second-year linebackers Kenny Young and Chris Board for the weak-side linebacker spot.
Through training camp and in the preseason, it appeared Board had separated himself from Young, receiving the bulk of the first-team reps and starting in the preseason.
However, in the team’s season opener, the two split time, with Young receiving 21 snaps and Board 13. The split resembled last season when Young and Onwuasaor shared time next to Mosley.
Martindale said he likes the current situation, which is more of a testament to the team’s versatility.
“When I’m talking about Chris Board and Kenny Young, they’re interchangeable [on special teams] and they’re interchangeable in the defense,” Martindale said. “To me, it’s the same we’re talking about with the safeties. We’re very fortunate and have some depth there with that.”
Humphrey returns to practice
Starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey returned to practice Thursday, one day after not participating because of a back injury.
Humphrey joined Brown (hip) as a limited participant. Linebacker Tyus Bowser (groin), cornerback Brandon Carr (not injury related), running back Mark Ingram II and wide receiver Chris Moore (illness) were full participants. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) did not practice.