OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Josh Bynes doesn’t feel like a veteran. It's hard for him to wrap his head around the fact that he's in his ninth season as a pro.
His story certainly doesn’t feel like that of a typical veteran story, either. But Bynes, at age 30, hasn’t had the normal season of a 30-year old linebacker.
He was signed as a free agent on Oct. 2 to help out with Baltimore’s defensive issues. On Sunday, Oct. 6, Bynes played 42 snaps, predominantly at MIKE linebacker, which was the ninth-most snaps on the entire defense. He had five tackles and an interception and helped settle down a Ravens defense that needed direction.
“That’s why he’s been around this league for so long,” Matthew Judon said. “It was very impressive and it wasn’t that he just got up to speed; he was out there leading.”
In a 26-23 overtime win against the Steelers, Bynes played a crucial role in directing traffic on the defense. He allowed Patrick Onwuasor to slide over to weak-side linebacker, which gave him one of his best games of the season.
“That’s what I’ve been used to starting from here, starting from when I was a kid, really,” Bynes said. “I was the only guy on our defense in high school that had a wristband. I was the only guy on our defense in college who told everybody what to do, checked the coverage, I was used to that for so long.”
Bynes’ interception set the Ravens up deep in Steelers territory on Sunday and eventually led to a touchdown.
But his biggest impact was on the rest of the defenders, and how they settled into place with Bynes in the lineup.
“He communicates a lot,” Onwuasor said. “When he sees things, he lets me know and I let him know. We’re always communicating during the play. I feel like we’re playing way faster with him on the field and we’re getting a lot of stuff done.”
Bynes' last week has been a whirlwind, as he went from a free agent on his couch in Atlanta to a starting linebacker in a game between two of the NFL’s fiercest rivals in a matter of days.
One of the reasons for his immediate playing time was his ability to put people in the right spot. Coaches and players had to check on him to make sure he was holding up conditioning-wise, but Bynes told them he was fine. It was a calming presence the Ravens defense sorely lacked in the first four weeks of the season.
“I love that responsibility and making sure I’m at peace and I’m calm, because it’s going to be a lot of things that happen,” Bynes said. “But for me it’s about being calm and poised and letting the game play itself out.”
For a while, however, it looked like Bynes might never reach a regular-season game again.
He started his career in Baltimore and even made the Super Bowl-winning tackle on a kickoff in 2013. But he left for Detroit and later Arizona in later years. He made 80 tackles in Detroit in 2015 and 75 a year ago in Arizona.
When Kliff Kingsbury was hired in Arizona, a new defensive staff was brought in and Bynes was shown the door just under a year after signing a three-year deal to stay.
“It was tough, I’m not going to sit here and say it wasn’t,” Bynes said. “It was pretty tough, especially I felt like I played really good last year. At the same time, the business is the business. A whole new staff comes into Arizona, everybody gets fired, I just become a casualty of that.”
Bynes admitted he thought about what his life would look like if his career was in fact over. He didn’t spend the preseason with any team and had to wait for October to get the nod to join a 53-man roster.
When the time came, Bynes — who didn’t get his playbook until Wednesday — was ready.
“I was up pretty late trying to study the playbook and I got up early enough so I could study the playbook and doing what I need to do,” Bynes said. “So when practice comes, it wouldn’t be foreign to me. I’ve already played it in my head 1,000 times.”
It was a surprise to most that Bynes played as much as he did on Sunday against the Steelers. It just wasn’t a surprise to Bynes, who has played that scenario in his head for each team he’s played for.
And with his newest opportunity, he’s focused on doing whatever he can to stay on the field.
“I’m always preparing myself as a starter mentally and I always put myself in that position everywhere I’ve been,” Bynes said. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been in a starter position. That’s just how I go about the game.”
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