L.J. Fort

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Ravens training camp preview: How much will the rookie inside linebackers make an impact on the defense?

Ravens training camp preview: How much will the rookie inside linebackers make an impact on the defense?

Rostered inside linebackers: Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, L.J. Fort, Chris Board, Otaro Alaka, Kristian Welch

In mid-April the Ravens’ weakest position, both in terms of the starting lineup and the team’s depth, likely was their inside linebackers.

And in three rounds of the NFL Draft, the Ravens turned a big hole on their defense into one of the most interesting positions on the roster.

The Ravens picked LSU linebacker Patrick Queen 28th overall, then double-dipped at inside linebacker with the selection of Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison in the third round at 98th overall. The duo of rookies instantly turned the Ravens inside linebacking corps into a strength.

Queen was a national champion last year and started 12 games for the Tigers. He made 95 tackles and had three sacks with one interception. The Ravens spoke time and time again about his sideline-to-sideline speed, which should play well behind the Ravens’ massive defensive front. 

Last year, the Ravens played safety Chuck Clark at middle linebacker in a handful of situations, perhaps more than the team would’ve preferred, but Queen’s addition means defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale can move Clark back into the secondary on obvious running situations. Queen will start at the MIKE, or middle, linebacker in the team’s defense. 


One of the benefits of Queen, too, is that he doesn't have to come off the field on passing downs. If the Ravens want to keep him on the field for all three downs, he's certainly got the talent to do so.

He could very well be flanked by a fellow member of his draft class in Harrison, who fits the mold of an old-school linebacker. 

Harrison was a two-year starter at Ohio State and made 81 and 75 tackles in the last two seasons of his career. He also had 16.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2019. The Ravens expect Harrison to start at the WILL (weak-side) linebacker, but emphasized that both Queen and Harrison can rotate spots at linebacker. 

But if the two rookies aren’t able to pick up the NFL game quick enough to demand immediate playing time, they’ve got L.J. Fort, Chris Board and Otaro Alaka returning at linebacker who have played in the system for a year already. 

Fort has the most experience, as he’s played in 77 games in his career and made eight starts last season for the Ravens. He made 35 combined tackles and registered two sacks as a mid-season addition for the defense. 

Board played in just 64 defensive snaps a season ago and was predominantly used on special teams. Alaka made the original roster as an undrafted free agent but was put on injured reserve at the end of September. 

So while the Ravens have three players on the roster who have experience in the system, just one (Fort) had significant in-game experience a season ago which made Queen and Harrison’s selections all the more important. 


Kristian Welch, an inside linebacker out of Iowa who signed this year as an undrafted free agent, likely will be competing for a spot on the practice squad in training camp. 

If the Ravens are guaranteed to keep Queen, Harrison and Fort on the roster this year, the number of inside linebackers the team carries could mean either Alaka or Board find themselves not on the 53-man roster. For a majority of the season a year ago, the Ravens carried four inside linebackers. Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, two of those four, will play for different teams in the 2020 season. 

Last year, the Ravens’ top two leading tacklers were Clark and cornerback Marlon Humphrey before Onwuasor at third. Now, with two new rookies in the fold, the team’s defensive options increased significantly. 

Both Queen and Harrison add speed and size to a defense that added four new defensive linemen in free agency, as the front seven’s overhaul took centerstage this offseason. 

And if the Ravens are able to get Queen and Harrison as much as the team would like, they’ll have some new leading tacklers in 2020. 

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Five Ravens who are set for a position battle in training camp

Five Ravens who are set for a position battle in training camp

After, by most accounts, a successful offseason for the Ravens, they’ve added some intrigue to various positions across the roster. 

Here are five players who are in for a training camp battle when the Ravens return to camp:

Mark Ingram, running back

Ingram isn’t in danger of losing his spot on the roster by any means. And he'll almost certainly keep his role as the team’s starting running back in week one of the 2020 season, too. But that doesn’t mean his role will be the same.

While it might seem weird to see a 1,000-yard rusher who had 200-plus carries last season on this list, the nature of the running back position in the NFL can be cruel.

In just his first season as a Raven, he made an impact in the locker room and on the field as he became one of the linchpins of the Ravens’ NFL-best offense. Now, Ingram will be fighting for snaps. 

The Ravens drafted J.K. Dobbins 55th overall in last month’s draft, a sure sign they’re thinking about the future and what could come of Ingram's contract, which has two years left on his contract. And, to be clear, the Ravens didn’t draft Dobbins in the second round to sit on the bench all season. 

Dobbins, who ran out of the shotgun exclusively at Ohio State, registered 2,000 yards on the ground last season and drew high praise from general manager Eric DeCosta after his selection. In terms of a scheme fit, it was as good of a match that could be expected.

With Justice Hill and Gus Edwards on the roster, both young options, Ingram’s second season with the Ravens could be drastically different than his first. 

Miles Boykin, wide receiver

There’s good and bad news for Boykin. 

The good news is that he’s still perhaps the leading contender to see playing time on the outside at wide receiver, as the Ravens didn’t address that specific position with a high draft pick. 

The bad news is they added three skill position players to the mix. 

Rookie wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche will compete for snaps, and though they’ll likely line up in the slot, they’ll join Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown on a roster suddenly starved for targets. 

Simply, there’s only so many targets that can go around and it’s up to Boykin, who had a stellar training camp but didn’t see the field much in the regular season. 

If Boykin has a strong training camp once again and can follow that up with a good start to the season, he could become the Ravens’ third receiving option in a suddenly crowded skill position group.

Daylon Mack, defensive lineman

The Ravens overhauled their defensive line more than any other position group on the roster this offseason. With Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe now projected as starters and Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington in the fold as recent draft choices, the options for depth dwindle quickly. 

JIhad Ward figures to be next in line to earn snaps, meaning the competition for who makes the roster on the defensive line could come down to whether or not the Ravens keep seven defensive linemen. If they do, Mack could be the guy. 

Baltimore doesn’t have a true run-stuffing nose-tackle on the roster after Williams, and Mack fills that role. A 2018 fifth-round pick, Mack spent all but one game last season either on injured reserve or the inactive list. 

He’ll have to impress in camp, or else he could find himself in danger of missing out on the final roster. 

L.J. Fort, inside linebacker

No player on the Ravens’ roster saw his outlook change more suddenly than Fort. 

A week before the NFL Draft, Fort was projected as a starting inside linebacker. Then the Ravens drafted Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in the first three rounds of the draft. 

With Queen seemingly a lock for starting reps, Fort will be forced to compete with Harrison, as well as Jake Ryan, Otaro Alaka and Chris Board to see the field. If defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale wants to put Fort on the field as the weak-side linebacker, he could pair him with one of the rookies to add some veteran stability there. 

Still, Fort’s outlook for a significant role in 2020 took a hit with Queen and Harrison’s selections.

Ben Powers, guard

Ben Powers, a 2018 fourth-round pick, figured to have the inside track for the starting right guard position. Then the position got a whole lot more crowded.

In the aftermath of Matt Skura’s injury and Marshal Yanda’s retirement, there’s a whole lot to be decided at center and right guard entering training camp. So the Ravens added a handful of players that can help at either position. 

Patrick Mekari, who played well in his five starts at center last season after Skura’s knee injury, will have more competition for the spot in training camp. The team drafted Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson and signed D.J. Fluker to add to the competition on the interior offensive line. Phillips is tranisitioning from tackle to guard, but has experience on the outside as well.

If Skura isn’t ready in time, Mekari is likely the front-runner to start at center with Fluker at right guard. With Bredeson in the mix as well, there's potentially five players who could start at right guard for the Ravens next season.

There’s a logjam on the interior of the offensive line, and Powers could find himself on the outside looking in.

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