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Ravens rookie Odafe Oweh has 'infinite' potential. To reach it, he's asked for help.

Jonas Shaffer, Baltimore Sun on

Published in Football

“When I say they ask every question known to man,” Houston said of Oweh and Hayes, “they’re asking every question.”

When Houston first met Oweh, he could only ever remember seeing someone who looked like him in his son’s “Madden” game. “You’re the created player,” Houston recalled telling Oweh: 6 feet 5, 251 pounds, sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash, long arms, explosive strength. Ravens outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins raved to defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale that Oweh’s pro day in March was “the best workout that he’s ever seen live. Ever.”

The only limit to Oweh’s use so far has been the Ravens’ imagination. In the preseason, he helped out as a gunner on the punt team. In Week 1, he lined up everywhere along the defensive front, from a three-technique (over the opposing guard’s outside shoulder) to a wide-nine (over the opposing tight end’s outside shoulder, or a few yards wide of the nearest tackle). Oweh’s first sack since his 2019 season at Penn State came after he spun free of Las Vegas Raiders tackle Alex Leatherwood on a three-man rush and chased down quarterback Derek Carr.

On Sunday night, he needed only to hit Patrick Mahomes to blunt the Chiefs’ momentum. After lining up wide of Travis Kelce in the slot, then interrupting the All-Pro tight end’s release at the snap, Oweh swiveled to face the pocket, slipped past center Creed Humphrey and grabbed Mahomes by his knees as he tried, in vain, to throw to Kelce. Fifteen minutes after forcing Mahomes’ first September interception, Oweh eased his way into Kansas City’s backfield, punched the ball loose from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, then covered the fumble himself.

“A huge impact,” Harbaugh said of Oweh after the 36-35 win. “We don’t win the game without the way he played.”

When Calais Campbell arrived in the NFL 13 years ago, there weren’t a lot of edge rushers who looked like him, either. Success, though, came slowly for the 6-8, 300-pound Miami star. In his rookie year with the Cardinals, Campbell finished with two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit and no sacks in 16 games.

He takes pride in shepherding young careers in Baltimore because he remembers how much the veterans in Arizona meant to his own. Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, a Pro Bowl selection the year before Campbell was drafted, “really pushed me and challenged me a lot,” Campbell recalled. In 2009, their second year together, Campbell and Dockett combined for 16 sacks. Over Campbell’s next seven seasons with the Cardinals, he never finished with fewer than five sacks, and he had double-digit quarterback hits in all but one year.

“I take great pride in keeping the game strong and just trying to educate the young guys on the things I’ve learned throughout my career,” Campbell said. “I have a lot of experiences that I feel like I can try to use to motivate, teach and help the young guys grow. We have a lot of talented young guys who I spend a lot of time with. Hopefully, they become the greats in this game.”

Through two weeks, Oweh is well past the “project” state of his development, as Wilkins said he would be. According to Pro Football Focus, Oweh is the NFL’s highest-graded rookie edge rusher and has the second-most quarterback pressures among first-year players, behind only former Nittany Lions teammate Micah Parsons.

 

Oweh’s urgency has impressed coaches — “Every rep matters, every day matters,” Wilkins said earlier this month — and it has kept him returning to the defense’s veterans, questions on his mind. They have reminded Oweh to focus on the little things: body language, alignment, hand placement. They have told him to study not only how he practices but also how opposing linemen play, probing both for weaknesses.

“Making sure you’re dotting all your i’s,” Oweh explained, “and crossing all your t’s.”

There is still a lot more of Oweh’s career to write, starting with Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. When your potential is “infinite,” as Campbell said Oweh’s was during training camp, so is your room for improvement. It is an immense burden, one Campbell and Houston and the Ravens have been eager to share.

Ultimately, though, greatness becomes a solitary pursuit, just one man working on a drill after a long week of practice. The Ravens have shown Oweh his promise. He said it’s up to him to realize it. “I’m just trying to fulfill everything I can, and what I should, be.”

Week 3

RAVENS@LIONS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Line: Ravens by 8

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