OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen understands he must improve.
Whether it was head coach John Harbaugh saying the Ravens “need more” at the position earlier this month or the many comments on social media, the 22-year-old has heard the disenchantment from a variety of sources wanting to see better in his second season.
“Everybody knows that. It’s obvious,” said Queen, the 28th overall pick of the 2020 draft. “It’s just a level of being consistent, being dominant. Just going out there and playing football like I know I can play, like they know I can play. That’s all it is, and that’s all it’s going to be. I’ve just got to get better.”
Baltimore has received better performance the last two weeks, but that comes with a caveat as Queen has moved to the weak-side inside linebacker — or “Will” — spot with the 32-year-old Josh Bynes returning to the starting lineup as the middle — or “Mike” — linebacker for the second time in three seasons. Queen has indeed tackled better and graded favorably at the position he played at LSU, but he’s taken just 46 of the Ravens’ 119 defensive snaps over these last two games. A sore thigh partly explains the lower percentage, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is also removing Queen from the game on passing downs as he and 2020 third-round pick Malik Harrison split time at the Will position and veteran Chris Board plays in more obvious passing situations.
Meanwhile, Bynes has played at least 73% of snaps in each of the last two games and has been credited for settling down a problematic position group much like he and L.J. Fort did two years ago when Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were floundering without former Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who had departed via free agency that offseason.
“Being alongside somebody that’s been in the league a long time, it helps me a little bit,” said Queen about Bynes. “It’s just confidence; it’s a confidence thing. I’ve just got to go out there and know I can play and play the game that I know I can play at a high level.”
The position change is an appropriate short-term fix for a team with Super Bowl aspirations as Queen receives “on-the-job training” next to Bynes in the words of inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan. Coaches have spoken about the need to slow the game down for Queen, but that’s not an encouraging sign for a first-round pick who was tabbed to be a future pillar for a defense that will need to get younger and cheaper after the 2021 season.
An inside linebacker drafted in the first round of today’s game is supposed to be an every-down player who tackles consistently and covers effectively. Otherwise, we’re talking about a Day 2 talent at best.
“I know everybody wants to see him be Ray Lewis right away, but Ray Lewis wasn’t Ray Lewis when he first got here,” Ryan said. “Things take time, and you’re going to see this guy get better each week. The fundamental parts of it, those are things that he has to do better. I think the less thinking, then he can do a better job at tackling. That’s something he needs to improve at. It’s a hard thing. The guy that’s going to do that for him is him, and he can do that.”
Ryan is sticking up for his young linebacker, but this isn’t about Queen failing to live up to the impossible standard of one of the best players in NFL history or even to that of Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowl selection. The concern is his positional development looking similar to that of Onwuasor, a former undrafted free agent who played well at the Will spot before having his weaknesses exposed at the Mike position. General manager Eric DeCosta astutely added Bynes and Fort on the fly to make that 2019 defense work with a timeshare at inside linebacker, and the Ravens invested major draft capital in Queen and Harrison last year to not be in such a position again.
But they’re right back where they were two years ago.
Former first-round offensive tackle added
A day after working out 29-year-old offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, the Ravens added the 2015 first-round pick to their practice squad.
Already missing former All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the rest of the season and losing right tackle Patrick Mekari to an ankle injury in the Week 7 loss to Cincinnati, Baltimore will likely take a long look at Ogbuehi at right tackle with second-year offensive lineman Tyre Phillips better suited for guard. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Texas A&M product has started 30 games in his career, but just five starts have come since the start of 2018 as injuries and inconsistent play have plagued Ogbuehi’s career.
Released by Seattle earlier this week, Ogbuehi began the season on injured reserve due to a biceps injury and made only one start for the Seahawks in Week 4. He played in 14 games as a backup for Jacksonville in 2019 and spent his first four seasons with the Bengals, starting a total of 25 games.
To make room for Ogbuehi on the practice squad, the Ravens released veteran safety Jordan Richards.
So much trade talk, so little space
With Tuesday’s trade deadline nearing, there are a few positions that would benefit from an upgrade, but hopes should be tempered.
DeCosta hasn’t shied away from trading draft picks for immediate help before the deadline — acquiring Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters two years ago and edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue last October — but the Ravens entered Thursday with just $1.425 million in salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association website. And that’s after already restructuring multiple contracts over the last few months and often carrying fewer than 53 players on the active roster to preserve that much.
Yes, there are some ways to create a little space here or there if the right deal presents itself, but navigating the cap will only grow more challenging with a potential record extension for star quarterback Lamar Jackson looming. You don’t want to create too many future headaches in the name of making only a marginal upgrade in the short term.