Over the past two weeks, Patrick Queen hasn’t played as much as he’s used to, but he has played better. He’s moved faster, tackled more consistently. He’s graded out higher. After a rough first month, the Ravens’ much-scrutinized inside linebacker has seemingly found strength on the weak side.
Queen’s position change might only be temporary, and it might not even be altogether consequential. Veteran Josh Bynes, who’s taken over at middle linebacker, also known as the Mike, and Queen, now starting as the weak-side inside linebacker, or the Will, both had solid games Sunday. The Cincinnati Bengals still routed the Ravens, 41-17, to grab pole position in the AFC North.
But as Queen, who turned 22 in August, grows into his role at a hallowed position in Baltimore, his midseason reset could prove to have lasting benefits.
“I think the Will, I just get a little more time just to do what I do,” Queen said Tuesday. “I’ll just play fast there now, so it’s really no difference from a physical standpoint. It’s a little bit easier mentally, but it’s still at the end of the day a Ravens defense, so we’ve got to bring it every day, no matter if you’re at Mike, Will, coming from deep, coming from the front. So we’ve just got to all just do our job. I’ve got to do my job, most of all because it all starts with me.”
Queen broke out in 2019 as a weak-side inside linebacker for LSU, flashing his sideline-to-sideline speed as he chased down ball carriers from the back side and blanketed running backs downfield. But when the Ravens took him No. 28 overall in 2020, team officials said Queen’s future was in the middle, where more would be asked of him as a run defender.
Over an up-and-down rookie season, Queen played mostly at the Mike, though he also saw time at the Will. After inside linebacker L.J. Fort suffered a season-ending knee injury in August, the Ravens had less flexibility at the position. Queen would start the season at the Mike, and the bigger, slower Harrison at the Will. Chris Board and Kristian Welch would back them up. Bynes was still only a practice squad player.
As the group struggled early, Queen became the poster child for their woes. After the Ravens allowed more than 500 yards against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5, coach John Harbaugh said of the team’s inside linebackers, “We need more.” They’d struggled to get off blocks, make tackles and fortify the middle of a leaky pass defense.
Queen acknowledged Tuesday that he was “trying to do too much.” Sometimes he would overpursue on a run and leave a gap exposed. Other times he’d throw his shoulder into a ball carrier instead of wrapping him up. He wondered what he was doing wrong. He asked coaches and teammates for help.
“They all gave me some feedback, so those are the things that I want to take into account and just try to improve on each day, leading up into the season, and each game, just get better and better and better,” he said.
In Week 6, the Ravens started Bynes at the Mike and moved Queen to the Will. While a thigh injury limited his playing time against the Los Angeles Chargers, he graded out as one of the NFL’s best off-ball linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus. On Sunday, he finished with two tackles, including one for loss, on 27 snaps (43% of the total) and again got high marks from PFF.
First-year inside linebackers Rob Ryan said Tuesday that Queen’s position change could inform the Ravens’ thinking about where he fits best long term. He said the game is “already slowing down” for Queen.
“Look, you’ve got to find spots,” he said. “That’s one thing you do. Once you get to a place, you’ve got to see the personnel you have, find their best spots, and this young guy’s going to have a big career in front of him. So I know everybody wants to see him be Ray Lewis right away, but I mean, hell, Ray Lewis wasn’t Ray Lewis when he first got here. So things take time. …
“I mean, obviously, we want him to be a great tackler and a more consistent tackler. And that’s something that he needs to improve on. But his coverage is much better. We see it progressing each week. He has a better understanding of everything we’re looking for. And again, utilizing his abilities going forward is something that we’re going to do.”
Ryan called Queen a “super-talented guy” who has “all the skills.” But he acknowledged that Queen, who didn’t start consistently at LSU until a month into his breakout 2019 season, still needed “on-the-job training.”
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Queen said his room for improvement and areas for growth are “obvious.” His return to the Will, he said, has given him the confidence to “play the game that I know I can play at a high level.” He’s not worried about where his future lies. That would be overthinking things. And Queen wants to stop doing that.
“Wherever I perform at better is where I’m going to play, so I’m going to leave that to the coaches,” he said. “I’m just out there to perform and do my best, and whatever they feel like is the best at the end of the day, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Nov. 7, 1 p.m.
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