Undrafted linebacker Orr ready to start for Ravens
— The Baltimore Ravens have an uncommon knack for developing undrafted linebackers into starters.
Bart Scott, Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain all signed with Baltimore after their names were not called on draft day. Each turned into a starter.
In his third year since going undrafted out of North Texas in the 2014 NFL Draft, Zach Orr is on track to add his name to that list this season.
One of the biggest questions entering training camp was who would start at inside linebacker next to Pro Bowler CJ Mosley. Orr started at the WILL linebacker spot in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers ahead of rookie Kamalei Correa and showed no intention of letting go of the top spot.
“We started with Zach [Orr]. Zach has had a really good camp, and you can see that. He has been all over the place,” linebackers coach Don Martindale said Saturday. “It is one of those things that I’m not ready to say yet, and obviously ‘Harbs’ [John Harbaugh] has the final say on it. Right now, I guess, in the competition, [Orr] is in the lead. I was really proud
of the way Zach played against Carolina.”
Orr understands how rare Baltimore’s success at signing undrafted linebackers is. He does not take it lightly.
“It would show that the coaches and organization have faith in me. That’s the utmost respect you can have is getting respect from your coaches and your teammates. It would mean a lot. It’s something I’ve worked for these past three years,” Orr said of winning the starting job. “One of the first things, when I first met coach ‘Wink,’ [Martindale] he said, ‘Know the history here. We have a history in this room as linebackers with undrafted guys.’
“He pretty much asked me, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ He’s challenged me every day since I’ve been here … Am I going to be the next one? I’m striving for it each and every day.”
The departure of veteran Daryl Smith following the 2015 season opened the spot for competition. Orr made eight tackles as a rookie and 22 in year two. He recorded his first sack last season.
“[He] just keeps getting better every year. He gets better every practice. The wisdom is in the results and the results are how he played,” Harbaugh said. “Everybody saw it. He played really well.”
Orr said Saturday that his biggest improvements have come off the field. He has learned from linebackers such as Elvis Dumervil how to not just watch film, but study it. Orr has become a student of the game, learning how to read offensive formations and even individuals’ stances.
Martindale agreed that the mental part of football is Orr’s greatest strength. His smarts help him overcome his smaller size (6’0”, 225 pounds).
“Someone says, ‘They are hungry.’ He is starving. The mental part of it is one of his strongest assets. The game is in slow motion to him; he is instinctive. He knows a lot of plays before the offense even knows that they are going to run it. You can see that reaction that he is playing faster than everybody else,” Martindale said. “I think initially, it was just the size of him. I think that was the initial thing of maybe why he didn’t get drafted. I’m glad he didn’t. I’m glad we got him.”
Orr is not the only undrafted linebacker vying for a starting role with the Ravens. Albert McClellan is entering year seven with Baltimore since going undrafted out of Marshall in the 2010 NFL Draft. The long-time special teams ace appears on track to replace the departed Courtney Upshaw as the SAM linebacker.
“The mindset of the majority of the undrafted guys is, ‘You are the first one in; you are the last one out,’” McClellan said. “You should always carry a chip on your shoulder. You should always walk around like you can be replaced, so you need to show your true versatility and your true value to the team – show your character and give them a reason to want you here.”
McClellan’s message and experience has not gone unnoticed by Orr.
“It definitely gave me an edge,” Orr said. “You have a guy like Albert McClellan who is going into Year Seven. He is as motivated as ever, and he’s been in the league for seven years. One thing he always told me, ‘You’ll always be undrafted. No matter what you do in this league, that will always follow you. You never get away from it.’
“It’s definitely something that has motivated me and that will continue to motivate me no matter what.”
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Ravens linebacker Zach Orr is on track to win a starting job on Baltimore’s defense.