OWINGS MILLS — Matthew Judon will report Wednesday along with other Ravens veterans, but he will arrive to a training camp unlike any of his previous three.
The outside linebacker is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. Judon downplayed the scenario of entering his walk year without reaching a long-term deal last month at mandatory minicamp.
“You know what’s different about this year? I don’t have braces on,” he joked. “But no, man, contract, no contract, there’s no guarantee I play one game this season, so I’m going to go out every single game like it’s my last, and I’m going to enjoy it while I’m here, because I have no clue what the future holds.
“Hopefully, I’ll be here forever and ever. But, like this offseason, we never know. So, I’m going to attack this season, this practice, this game, whatever I have to do, the next rep, like it’s my last.”
First-year general manager Eric DeCosta has made good on his stated objective to re-sign several players this offseason who were entering the final years of their contracts. Cornerback Tavon Young, kicker Justin Tucker and guard Marshal Yanda all signed extensions before they were able to hit the open market following next season.
Judon will be critically important to the Ravens’ defense this season following the departures of outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency. Smith led Baltimore with 8.5 sacks last season while Suggs and Judon followed with seven apiece. With the entire secondary, returning from last year’s No. 1-ranked defense, generating a quality pass rush is the Ravens’ biggest question mark.
The Ravens addressed the voids left by Smith and Suggs by drafting all-time FBS sacks leader Jaylon Ferguson and signing Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray in free agency. Third-year outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams have yet to contribute in a major way, but coaches will look for the young edge rushers to step up. McPhee returns for a second stint after playing in Baltimore from 2011-14.
Judon said there is no added pressure to lead the group he suddenly finds himself the veteran of -- an impressive ascent for a fifth-round draft pick out of a Division II school in 2016.
“No, I do not. I’m going to be me,” he said. “I’m going to laugh, joke, smile, have fun, and if guys lean on me to lead them, I will lead, but I’m not going to force anything.”
Judon said his goal remains the same as every year, to lead the NFL in sacks. He followed by stressing his emphasis on doing whatever he can to help the Ravens’ defense. If he needs to set the edge in the run game or open space for another pass rusher by absorbing a double-team, that is what he plans to do.
Judon did not take part in organized team activities, but reported to the mandatory minicamp in good shape.
“From what I saw, he looked good,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the first day. “He looked like he was in shape. He played fast and worked hard; knew what he was doing.”
Three of Judon’s seven sacks last season came on a single series when he became the first NFL player since 2002 to sack the opposing quarterback on three consecutive plays. Over the past two seasons, he leads Baltimore with 27 tackles for loss and his 15 sacks in the span follow only Suggs’ 18.
The Ravens will want to keep that level of production around, and Judon says he wants to remain.
“I don’t know how other organizations are, because I was drafted here, but here I feel home,” he said. “It’s comfortable out here. I almost drive to work with my eyes closed, and I love the people here, the culture here.”
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