Around this time a year ago, Ravens outside linebacker Odafe Oweh felt the jitters.
As a rookie in his first NFL training camp, the first-round draft pick wanted to make a good impression, forcing himself to make every play.
After getting 15 games of experience and having offseason shoulder surgery, he enters his second season wiser — and healthier. In fact, Oweh and new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald are confident that the former Penn State standout can have a dominant year.
“I think that’s the vision he has for himself,” Macdonald said Friday. “He should be a guy that, when we need him, he can get to the quarterback.”
Oweh showcased his potential to be a defensive cornerstone last season, totaling 33 tackles (five for loss), five sacks and 15 quarterback hits while contributing to the league’s best run defense.
As Oweh looked back at his rookie campaign, he said he liked how he was an active player who didn’t miss a lot of tackles.
“If I wasn’t winning off the first move, I was going to win off the second, or even the third move. And then once the ball was out [of the quarterback’s hand], I was triggering,” Oweh said. “I want to build on that. I want to be more complete in pass rush, be more accurate, [and] win on the first move a lot more.”
Oweh proved he could make plays when it mattered most, as his team-best three forced fumbles all came in prime-time. With the Kansas City Chiefs threatening to take the lead in the final minutes of the Ravens’ Week 2 home opener, Oweh jarred the ball loose from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, solidifying a comeback win.
After Oweh drilled receiver Jarvis Landry to force a fumble during the Ravens’ win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 11, cornerback Marlon Humphrey said his teammate was a quiet person who could turn into a monster on the field.
“It’s been crazy to kind of see him [click] that switch, which I think all the greats do,” Humphrey said.
However, as the season progressed, the injury bug that decimated the Ravens’ roster caught up to Oweh, as he missed the final two games with a foot injury. Then a lingering shoulder injury required offseason surgery.
“I don’t want to say it held me back, but it was something that I was feeling,” Oweh said of his shoulder injury. “It got progressively worse as I was playing. But I’m a competitor, I want to compete. I know as a football player, you’ve got to play through things like that. Next season, I’m going to be ready, though.”
Oweh said he’s already seen the work he put in during the offseason paying off. He feels calmer, his legs are stronger and he is reading everything on the field.
Macdonald, the defensive coordinator at Michigan last season, compared Oweh to a dominant pitcher: “When he throws his fastball, it’s up there. It’s 100-plus [mph].”
“It’s just great to see him out there moving around,” Macdonald said. “He’s freaky. I expect him to do some great things for us.”
Oweh spent some time watching Michigan’s defense since his close friend and teammate, David Ojabo, starred for the Wolverines last year. One thing Oweh noticed about Macdonald is that he lets his edge rushers have freedom.
“He lets them be who they are,” Oweh said. “I’m looking forward to how he uses me.”