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Malik Harrison is thinking less and playing faster as he looks to expand his role on defense

The game is beginning to slow down for the second-year inside linebacker who wants to take his game to the next level.

Divisional Round - Baltimore Ravens v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens are expecting several members of their 2020 draft class to make more contributions and carve out larger roles heading into their second season, where most players make their biggest strides.

One of those rising sophomores, who are currently flying under the radar but are eying a bigger role in 2021, is inside linebacker Malik Harrison. He was active for and appeared in every game as a rookie, rotating with veteran L.J. Fort at the weakside (WILL) linebacker spot opposite of fellow 2020 draftee Patrick Queen.

He is ready for a more consistent playing time on defense now that he is playing faster and more free thanks to his experience, the work he’s put in since the season ended, and a better understanding of the playbook.

Harrison stressed this while addressing the media after practice a few days ago.

“I think it’s me being more comfortable and not really thinking, just going out there and just play,” Harrison said. “This offseason with there’s OTAs and training camp, I’m just trying to make myself better every day, expand my role.”

One of the biggest detriments to the development of Harrison and the vast majority of the 2020 rookie class was the loss of the preseason and in-person offseason program due to the pandemic. Harrison believes that being able to physically participate in Organized Team Activities, voluntary workouts, and Mandatory Minicamp this year has been instrumental to his growth heading into his second season.

“I think the OTAs definitely helped me a lot. I wish I would have had that my rookie year coming in. OTAs, just getting with the guys and just building that bond and that chemistry, it makes everything easier.”

The Ravens had their coaching staff nearly picked clean this offseason but were able to replenish their ranks with the hiring of a nice mix of established and ascending position/assistant coaches. One of the most notable hires that is generating just as much fanfare as Keith Williams and Tee Martin is that of new inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan.

Harrison enjoys the spontaneity and experience the long-time defensive coach brings to the young position group.

“You never know what you’re going to get out of him each day,” Harrison said. “We’ll talk about something in the meeting rooms, and the next thing you know, he’ll just have a story. Every day it’s something new.”

Harrison and Queen were drafted two rounds and 50 picks apart but have been joined at the hip on and off the field ever since they became teammates. The Ravens took Queen in the first round at No. 28 overall out of LSU and doubled down at the position by taking Harrison in the third at No. 98 overall out of Ohio State.

“Ever since we got drafted, as soon as the day that I got drafted, we connected right after that, and ever since that day, we hang out, we talk [at] dinner every day,” said Harrison. “We just push each other to get better every day.”

Like Queen, he was a good run defender as a rookie but wasn’t as stout against the pass and believes that making improvements in coverage is key to elevating his game.

“That will take my game to another level, complete my game,” Harrison said. “Just being able to be that thumper and still be able to be an all-down backer, [it will] just complete my game.”

Harrison also shared that his offseason consisted of watching film, gaining a better understanding of route concepts, slimming down a little after playing a little heavier than he would’ve liked and soaking up veteran knowledge. All of those practices will help achieve his goal of becoming a more complete and well-rounded defender.

The converted quarterback with underrated athleticism has the potential to blossom into a standout linebacker who could form a dynamic duo in the middle of the Ravens’ defense alongside Queen for years to come.