After an underwhelming first two years in the NFL, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson entered his third training camp on the roster bubble in the minds of many pundits. However, he’s arguably been the Ravens’ most dominant defender through their first two preseason games and has been consistently impressing in practice as well.
“I said last week, in front of the whole defense – I said – ‘You just had your two best practices as a Raven,’” Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale said. “And he just keeps building on it, so we’re expecting him to flourish again, in his role.”
The 2019 third-round pick who finished his collegiate career as the all-time leader in sacks at the Division I level only managed to recorded 4.5 sacks in his first 28 career games in the NFL, which included nine starts as a rookie after veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee suffered a season-ending injury. Many thought he would break out in his second season and finally live up to the ‘Sack Daddy’ nickname he earned for terrorizing quarterbacks at Louisiana Tech University, but he failed to do so and was even inactive for two of the last four regular-season games as well as both playoffs games.
He believes that the experience he gained during that time and the veteran leadership he has at his disposal has been instrumental in his development as he heads into what some pundits believe is a ‘make-or-break’ season for the third-year edge defender.
“Going into my third year, I’ve got a little bit more experience. I’ve got the right group of guys around me, leading me the right way, so yes, everything is clicking for me right now,” said Ferguson. I’m trying to keep it rolling.”
Two major areas of improvement that Ferguson made during the offseason were getting in better shape and refining his technique. He’s been soaking up as much of the wealth of knowledge and tricks of the trade that older players were more than willing to share with him.
“I took better care of my body. I worked on bettering elements of my game and [not] being focused so much on being in the big NFL,” Ferguson said. “Here, now, I’ve got a bunch of technicians in the room with me, who [are] not selfish; they’re willing to share all their little secrets. So, I grab on to some of their secrets and add it to my game.”
In addition to McPhee, the Ravens have several seasoned veteran defenders in the trenches. Players like defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, nose tackle Brandon Williams and outside linebacker Justin Houston have all had a profound impact on many of the younger players during training camp and it shows in the team’s preseason dominance.
“Just being with guys like that, I’m learning not to look at, so much, physical stuff, [but to look at] little keys, like which way they’re moving, which way they’re leaning, pre-snap stuff to help me,” Ferguson said. “Before, I would just look at a player, just thinking that I can beat him by myself.”
While Ferguson didn’t show great strides as a pass rusher from year one to year two, he did show significant improvement as a run defender last season, especially when it came to setting a strong edge. ‘Thou shalt stop the run,’ is one of the holiest commandments the Ravens require their defenders to live by and he’s certainly come a long way from the liability he was against dominant rushing teams as a rookie.
“I’ve come a lot farther,” Ferguson said. “Being here, with the program, with [head strength and conditioning coach] Steve Saunders, I’ve gotten bigger and stronger, so that’s always going to help me in the run game – and on top of my natural willingness to hit. I think the Ravens are the right place for me to keep on doing what I do.”
His third season could prove to be pivotal in the trajectory of his career, at least in Baltimore so he’s coming in with a determined mindset to dominate and maximize every opportunity that he gets to show what can do and how he has grown.
“As long as I get a chance, I’m going to come out here, I’m going to keep working, keep working to get better every single day,” Ferguson said.
Martindale also acknowledged the magnitude of the upcoming season for Ferguson and has been impressed with the calm and focused manner in which he has been conducting himself despite knowing what is at stake.
“I think he knows that this year is important for him,” Martindale said. “The thing that impresses me is how he hasn’t changed, personality-wise. It’s not like he’s walking around with the pressure of the world on his shoulders.”
”Right now, I’m trying to stay as relaxed as possible and just keep on balling,” Ferguson said. “One thing I know is that I can play in this league, and definitely, I can play here. So, if I keep on doing my job, keep on doing my thing, nothing will change, [and] there will be an opportunity for me.”
Ferguson has taken his game up a notch in the preseason after speculation arose that he might be on the roster bubble following the signing of Houston. He’s been able to consistently flash the promise as an all-around edge defender that the Ravens saw when they drafted him three years ago.
“What he’s done is, he’s come to practice, and he’s come to these games and these situations, and he’s played with the confidence that we all have in him,” said Martindale.
With just one more exhibition game left to play in the Battle of the Beltway, Ferguson has an opportunity to do more than just secure a spot on the final 53-man roster. He could carve out a role on the Ravens’ defense that will make him too valuable to not be active on game day.