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3 reasons for Justin Madubuike’s breakout season

The fourth-year pro is becoming a household name in the final year of his rookie contract.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

After showing flashes of his game-wrecking potential during his first three seasons in the league, Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike has put it all together and is having an outstanding breakout season in the final year of his rookie contract. He has recorded at least half a sack in a franchise record nine straight games and currently leads both the team and all interior defensive linemen with a career-high 10 in 12 games.

When asked what has been the key to the 2020 third-round pick’s ascension to stardom and explosion in production, Ravens Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Anthony Weaver highlighted a trio of major factors: tenacity, consistency, and opportunity.

“I think the biggest thing with Justin is he’s tenacious,” Weaver said. “He attacks every day exactly the same. You have some guys that, they have their good days, and they have their bad days. I don’t know that he’s ever had a bad day. He just shows up to work with the same mentality every single day, and that’s why you’ve seen the production you have [with him].

Some players hit the ground running, some are late bloomers, and others just need a chance to shine from behind the shadow of a more established player. Madubuike spent his first three seasons learning from six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell. After the team released the future Hall of Famer as a salary cap casualty this offseason, the pathway to increased playing time was paved.

“I just think he’s continuing to mature as a football player,” Weaver said. “His football intelligence goes up, he starts to recognize some of the things that are happening around him, and he’s also probably getting more opportunities without a Calais here and things like that.”

Weaver believes Madubuike’s biggest areas of growth are a combination of both recognition and refined technique.

“I was just talking to Kevin Zeitler about this the other day. He’s like, ‘Either some guys, you worry about them running around you and being more athletic that you, but you don’t worry about them running you over.’ He’s like, he can do everything.’ That obviously causes problems,” Weaver said. “I’m just so happy for the kid. He’s walked in this year with just mission-minded [focus] from the beginning. I’m talking about in March, and to see it all come to fruition has been awesome.”

Another coach who works closely with Madubuike and has been key to the elevation of the Ravens’ top-ranked pass rush is first-year Outside Linebackers Coach Chuck Smith. The two had a preexisting relationship prior to him joining the staff this offseason because of his work as a pass rush coaching guru nicknamed Dr. Rush.

In Smith’s eyes, Madubuike’s breakout began last year when he set his previous career highs with 5.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits. However, he was overshadowed by the presence of Campbell and impact of four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Justin Houston, who led the team with 9.5 sacks.

“I want to say this too, ‘Beek’ was already on fire,” Smith said. “He came out last year, but a lot of people never brought up ‘Beek’ [and] what he was doing because we were looking at Calais and Justin Houston so much. They are great players, but last year, give him credit and the guys who were here last year. ‘Beek’ was already rolling [and] doing some great things.”

Smith praised Madubuike’s willingness to expand his arsenal of pass rush moves and the execution of them in games, which has led to him becoming the first Ravens player to reach double-digit sacks since Terrell Suggs in 2017.

“You’ve seen ‘Beeks’ get a sack on the spin, You’ve seen ‘Beeks’ get a sack on the cross-chop. You’ve seen ‘Beeks’ get a sack on the chop-drive,” Smith said. “He’s worked on his skills and basically took what he did last year and brought that forward.”

Weaver says that it is often easier for opposing offenses to scheme around dominant edge rushers because they can deploy chip blocks on the end of the offensive line. It’s more difficult to try to limit the impact of a potent interior pass rusher because the pressure they apply collapses the pocket from up the middle, preventing quarterbacks from stepping up or flushing them out to awaiting edge defenders.

“It’s hard now when you have a guy on the interior, particularly when you have the edges we have,” Weaver said. “You can’t take them all away, so while I think people are cognizant of where he is and what we’re trying to do with [Justin], it’s hard to scheme him out. Let me say that.”

Smith admitted that the term ‘dawg’ has become a cliché that gets used more casually than it should. However, he believes that Madubuike is the living embodiment of what it truly means with how he plays the game.

“Beeks is really the kind of dude that is absolutely trying to knock your head off every play,” Smith said. “There is no other way to put it. So, from that standpoint, when you think like that, effort comes into play to be a ‘dawg.’”

Madubuike is well on his way to his first Pro Bowl and possibly All-Pro recognition as well. He is consistently wreaking havoc as a mainstay in opposing backfields. The 26-year-old is destined for a massive payday. Whether it results in him staying in Baltimore or departing for greener pastures elsewhere remains to be seen. For the time being, he will continue being a dominant force in the middle of a ferocious championship-caliber Ravens defense.