Patrick Onwuasor paced the Ravens defense with a unit-best seven tackles in Sunday’s 27-10 pasting of the Cleveland Browns. It was not the first time the inside linebacker had led the team in tackles (he did the same in a 23-0 shutout of the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 19), but it was another reminder of how much Onwuasor has stabilized a position previously manned by Zachary Orr.
Despite not starting in three games, Onwuasor ranks second on the defense in tackles with 76 and solo tackles with 54, trailing only middle linebacker and three-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley (121 and 86, respectively). He has finished nine of 11 starts ranked in the team’s top three in tackles.
His development drew high praise from defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
“He’s grown every week,” Pees said before Wednesday’s practice. “He’s just going to get better and better, and I hope he gets bigger and bigger. We just took a guy who really had not played the position and stuck him in there, and kind of thought he was going to be a backup, then kind of won the job. I think each week, he gets better and better.”
Onwuasor’s progress is somewhat surprising considering that he started at safety at Portland State. Signed as an undrafted rookie in 2016 by the Ravens, he eventually made the transition to linebacker, but opened the current regular season as Kamalei Correa’s primary backup.
“I always thought that I would probably be way too small to play linebacker,” Onwuasor said. “I thought I could be a physical safety, but I never thought they would move me to linebacker. But them moving me to linebacker, it’s been great for me.”
Correa started three of the first four games before giving way to Onwuasor. Onwuasor is quick to credit Mosley, Pees and linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale for helping shorten his learning curve, which has boosted his confidence.
“Sizz [outside linebacker Terrell Suggs] told me one time that this game is probably 90 percent confidence,” Onwuasor said. “If you don’t have any confidence, you’re already losing right there. I’ve always got to have confidence in myself to be able to dominate, and I’ve always got confidence in my teammates to help put me in the right position. But I’m starting to build that confidence in myself that I can play.”
While he has made a few errors, Pees said Onwuasor has the traits coaches look for in a defender.
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“The thing about Patrick is, he’s fast, he can run,” Pees said. “He still has a lot of things to learn, as far as the linebackers, as far as keying, as far as blitzing, things like that, even some of his drops sometimes. But what he does, he does 100 miles per hour, which is what we like. I told you guys a long, long time ago [what] I told the team. There’s three things we always look for in a defensive player — a guy has to be tough, a guy has to be smart, and he has to give effort. None of those things take any athletic ability. Now if you add athletic ability to that, you have a great player. Now he’s tough, he’s smart, and he gives great effort. He’s still learning the position. He understands after he makes a mistake, that he made a mistake, and how to fix it. I think he’s helped us in that regard to solidify that spot.”