Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor won’t look over and see C.J. Mosley next to him anymore. He won’t hear Terrell Suggs’ booming voice from the edge, nor safety Eric Weddle right behind him, directing traffic before furiously backpedaling to give the opposing quarterback a different look.
All those leaders of the Ravens’ top-rated defense of 2018 are gone, and Onwuasor, armed with a nice, bigger paycheck, knows it’s up to him to step into the massive leadership void left behind. And just in case he wasn’t sure about that, others have let him know.
“One thing I have to start learning how to build is leadership,” Onwuasor said as he met with the media April 16 as team’s offseason program began.
Onwuasor noted that veteran safety Earl Thomas, the Ravens’ top offseason acquisition, told him, “‘We’re going to work on your leadership.’ And that’s something that I kind of shy away from, too,” Onuwuasor said. “I’m kind of soft-spoken. I like staying away a bit. I think if I start working on my leadership, it would probably be great for us.”
Onwuasor, who turns 27 in August, has followed a path familiar to the Ravens: an inside linebacker who made the roster as an undrafted rookie, then worked his way into an increasingly larger role before becoming a regular starter. It happened with Bart Scott, and Jameel McClain, and Dannell Ellerbe, and Zach Orr as well.
Onwuasor started 12 of 16 games at weak-side linebacker this past season, finishing with 59 tackles, 5.5 sacks and one interception. He forced two fumbles on strip-sacks, with both of them returned for touchdowns by cornerback Tavon Young.
Now with Mosley gone as a free agent to the New York Jets, Onwuasor becomes the clear leader of an inside linebacker group that is one of the thinnest areas on the team. The only other returnees from last year’s 53-man roster are second-year players Kenny Young and Chris Board.
The Ravens could target an inside linebacker early in the draft, and they could look to sign a veteran later in the summer, as they did with Daryl Smith in 2013 after Ray Lewis retired, but it will be up to Onwuasor to take command of the inside linebacker group.
It’s also likely that Onwuasor will wear the defensive headset helmet, communicating calls from defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale to the rest of the defense.
“I’m really comfortable wearing the headset,” Onwuasor said. “I wore it in practice. Just listening to ‘Wink’ relay the calls … C.J. wasn’t the only one talking. You have 11 guys on the field. Eleven guys are talking. When that play comes in, we’re all communicating.”
A restricted free agent this spring, Onwuasor signed a second-round tender worth roughly $3 million, nearly quintupling his salary from last season. He is set to become a free agent next year, but he wasn’t ready to look too far ahead on the business front.
“I’m just focused on this year, and I’m going to let that play out how it plays out,” he said.
Onwuasor acknowledged that the extent of the free agency losses that hit the Ravens’ defense took him somewhat by surprise, as Mosley (Jets), Suggs (Arizona Cardinals), Weddle (Los Angeles Rams) and linebacker Za’Darius Smith (Green Bay Packers) all signed elsewhere.
“To be honest, I didn’t really think it was going to change that much,” Onwuasor said.
“It’s a business at the end of the day,” he added, “so it’s a lot of moving pieces. I think the Ravens did a great job to try to fill in those pieces and bring people here to help us progress.”