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After “year of growth,” Simpson excited to shine for Ravens

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens inside linebacker Trenton Simpson described his rookie season as “a year of growth.” 

The 2023 third-round selection out of Clemson was never expected to play extensively with Pro Bowl inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen atop the depth chart, but a leg injury suffered early in training camp sidelined Simpson for the first half of August and slowed his learning curve. Though he flashed his speed and athleticism in two choppy preseason performances and was a weekly special-teams contributor, Simpson entered Week 18 having played just 20 defensive snaps in his first regular season. 

With Baltimore having already locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC a week earlier and planning to rest Smith in the regular-season finale, Simpson received an extended shot to play against Pittsburgh and show how much he had improved after a season’s worth of practices. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound linebacker finished with a sack, another tackle for a loss, and five other tackles in 26 snaps, a performance that prompted general manager Eric DeCosta to suggest in April that Simpson “grew as much as anybody” from last year’s roster. 

“It was the best thing that could have happened to me because I had to be patient throughout the season for my moment to come,” said Simpson about that Week 18 performance. “When it came, I was prepared. It was just that boost of confidence that I needed headed into the offseason knowing like I belong, I’m ready to play. It was a blessing. It was God’s timing. I feel like when I got my chance to go out there and display what I can do, I feel like I made the most out of it.” 

Much has changed since the end of last season with Queen having signed a three-year, $41 million contract with Pittsburgh in free agency and Simpson being viewed as the likely successor at the Will linebacker spot. Simpson’s former position coach Zach Orr replaced Mike Macdonald as the defensive coordinator, prompting head coach John Harbaugh to hire Mark DeLeone as the new inside linebackers coach. 

Having also coached Smith early in his career in Chicago, DeLeone, 36, will now be entrusted with helping develop Simpson, who played the Will linebacker spot for only his final year at Clemson after serving in more of a hybrid role over his first two collegiate seasons. It’s all about getting reps and gaining experience now. 

“You’re seeing the game at a different level from a third-level player to a second-level player,” said Mark DeLeone about Simpson’s transition from his time at Clemson. “Every day, seeing how he sees the game, getting his run-pass reads, all those types of things, that kind of progress I think is really good. We all know how athletic Trenton is and how fast he is and those types of things. He’s great there. Just seeing that every day and that progress, I love to see him doing that.” 

It certainly helps that Simpson will be playing next to Smith, who was widely credited for freeing up Queen to play to his strengths. Many observers have compared those skills to what Simpson does best

Turning 23 next week, Simpson says he’s just trying to be a sponge working with someone as consistent on and off the field as Smith, a two-time first-team All-Pro selection and the leader of the Baltimore defense. 

“The mentality is the same that you all see on Sundays. It’s a blessing to be beside someone like that [to] learn from him,” Simpson said. “Also, sitting right beside him in film [sessions]. Whenever I have a question, he’s there to answer it. Off the field, the relationship has grown a lot also. Just every single day, I’m learning something from him and matching his energy. That’s something I picked up: communication and matching his energy every day as a linebacker and leading the defense.” 

Of course, growing paints are possible if not likely. Even as a first-round pick, Queen had his share of ups and downs over his first few seasons, and there were similar questions about his experience level coming out of LSU. 

But Queen blossomed into a Pro Bowl linebacker playing next to Smith, and the 27-year-old veteran offered an endorsement of Simpson at the beginning of spring workouts. Smith has been right beside the second-year inside linebacker for every workout open to reporters this spring. 

“I know his mindset, so I’m excited. He has all the potential in the world,” Smith said in mid-April. “It’s just going to be about putting that on the field week in and week out and just trusting his ability. If he does that, I think he’ll be the best second-year linebacker in the league.” 

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