Ojabo embracing high expectations entering first full season with Ravens

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — David Ojabo understands he’s “here for a reason,” knowing the Ravens viewed him as a first-round talent when drafting him in the second round last year ahead of what would be a glorified redshirt season because of a torn Achilles tendon.

This offseason, he even had the confidence to ask seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker and 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs if he could wear No. 55, the number Ojabo wore at the University of Michigan. The franchise doesn’t officially retire jersey numbers, but Suggs is included in the small handful of special Ravens — a list including Pro Football Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed as well as eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda — whose digits haven’t been reissued.

Ojabo, 23, apparently wasn’t afraid of putting a target on his back with the great expectations such a number change would have brought when we’re talking about inevitably being compared to Baltimore’s all-time sacks leader. But the Ravens even humoring such a request is an indication of the high hopes they have for Ojabo, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Scotland.

“That’s above me. He’s a legend, so I’m going to stick with 90,” said Ojabo, who revealed owner Steve Bisciotti was even involved in the discussion. “I tried. I had to try. I had to try. But he’s not going for it.”

One thing Ojabo is finished talking about is the Achilles tear that occurred at Michigan’s pro day six weeks before the 2022 draft. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound edge rusher says he’s now “stronger” and “more explosive” — as well as 10 pounds heavier — than he was prior to the injury, insisting he’s “ready to put on a show” in his first full NFL season.

Upon moving to the 53-man roster last November, Ojabo played just 23 defensive snaps and was active for only three games — including the first-round playoff defeat at Cincinnati — with defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald citing “a numbers issue” with the outside linebackers rotation as the biggest reason why the rookie played so sparingly. But the man who was also Michigan’s defensive coordinator overseeing Ojabo’s breakout 2021 campaign sees someone ready for the next level after rehabbing and developing last year.

“He looks great. I feel like he’s put on some good weight and looks stronger and looks fast right now, and more than anything, mentally, I think he’s in a great spot as well,” Macdonald said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of confidence from him throughout the process. It’s great to see him in good spirits.”

Ojabo’s only extensive 2022 game action came in the Week 18 loss at Cincinnati, but those 20 defensive snaps included a strip-sack of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, a play Ojabo acknowledged “made me feel like I belonged” and provided motivation for the offseason. It’s the kind of play Ojabo made frequently in Ann Arbor as he collected 11 sacks and forced five fumbles in his final season in the Big Ten, which firmly put him on teams’ radar as a potential first-round pick before his unfortunate injury.

That Week 18 takeaway provided excitement for the future, but close friend and high school teammate Odafe Oweh says it was only the beginning for such a talented player.

“He’s smooth with his rush, and in the run game, he’s getting better every day,” Oweh said. “He’s so smart. That’s what a lot of these people don’t even understand. He’s so savvy in that aspect as well. His ceiling’s crazy. He got a sack, and he was off one Achilles. … His story is like [mine] too. He started [playing football] junior year [of high school], and he’s just soared since then.”

Expectations are high for both Ojabo and Oweh, who is coming off an underwhelming second season and still trying to live up to his own draft billing as the 31st overall pick two years ago. But the two continue to lean on their friendship with both having come a long way in short football journeys.

The Ravens are counting on that reunion paying major dividends rushing off the edge for Macdonald’s defense. That’s why they were selected so early despite fair pre-draft questions for both.

“I see it as a brotherhood at this point. We lived in the same dorm in high school,” Ojabo said. “He went off to Penn State; I’m at Michigan. And now we’re about to be playing across from each other. Man, it’s everything to me. It just makes me feel more at home [and] feel the love and support, especially through my injury.

“We met back up at the highest level, and we’re just ready to see it through.”

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