Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS -

moved com­mu­ni­ca­tion du­ties to safety Tony Jef­fer­son to “[take] a lit­tle bit off [On­wua­sor’s] plate,” Har­baugh said.

De­fen­sive is­sues con­tin­ued, as the unit al­lowed the long­est run in fran­chise his­tory, an 88-yard touch­down to Browns run­ning back Nick Chubb.

The team soon brought in vet­er­ans Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, al­low­ing On­wua­sor to move back to weak-side linebacker, where he has said he is more com­fort­able.

The over­all de­fen­sive show­ing im­proved against the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, but On­wua­sor suf­fered a high-an­kle sprain in a 26-23 over­time win. He would miss the team’s next two contests de­spite fin­ish­ing the game.

“That was pretty tough for me, think­ing that I could come out here Cincin­nati week,” On­wua­sor said. “I thought I’d be ready to go, and I wasn’t. And then go­ing into Seat­tle, think­ing I would be ready to go. [The an­kle in­jury] calms down, and then when you go out there and try to go run, it’s not the same and it’s frus­trat­ing.”

On­wua­sor re­turned Sun­day in his first game to play 28 of 67 de­fen­sive snaps, sim­i­lar to his work­load from last sea­son, but he left his mark in lim­ited ac­tion.

“I think he’s just more nat­u­ral at the dime spot,” lineback­ers coach Mike Macdon­ald said dur­ing the team’s bye week. “Let’s call it the dime — dime or [weak-side], what­ever you want to call it. What hap­pens is, when you’re over there, you’re a lit­tle bit more on the edge of the de­fense. There’s a lit­tle bit more blitz­ing to be in­volved in. He’s a great blitzer. So, you’re re­ally ask­ing him to do the things that he’s nat­u­rally re­ally gifted at do­ing, us­ing his length, that sort of thing.”

On­wua­sor’s tran­si­tion to mid­dle linebacker came with a pre­sumed lead­er­ship role, as the Ravens lost play­ers such as Mosley, linebacker Ter­rell Suggs and safety Eric Wed­dle in the off­sea­son.

He re­flected on those past lead­ers and how they have pre­pared him for the re­spon­si­bil­ity. With vet­er­ans such as Jef­fer­son and linebacker Per­nell McPhee be­ing lost for the sea­son be­cause of in­juries, his growth as a leader has be­come more paramount.

“I feel like we all had to step up,” On­wua­sor said. “Me, [out­side linebacker Matthew] Judon, [ de­fen­sive tackle Michael] Pierce. We all had to step up as be­ing the younger guys on this de­fense, with [Jef­fer­son], Per­nell and [safety] DeShon [El­liott] and those guys go­ing down. It kind of hurt us a lit­tle bit, but we knew a lot of other guys were ready to play and take over those roles.

“I think that was one of my main goals, to be more vo­cal on and off the field. Just com­mu­ni­cat­ing more and stuff like that, be­cause the past cou­ple years, I didn’t re­ally have to do that. I had C.J., Sizz [Suggs] and [Wed­dle] be­hind me. So I just kind of played my role and just played fast and played ball.”

Judon said he has no­ticed On­wua­sor be­com­ing more of a vo­cal leader — “When we’re in walk-throughs, [he talks], he keeps us fiery on the side­line,” — al­though On­wua­sor’s re­served per­son­al­ity pales in com­par­i­son with his pre­de­ces­sors, such as Mosley and Ray Lewis.

Adapt­ing and thriv­ing af­ter shift­ing roles, On­wua­sor has be­come the per­fect avatar for a de­fense that has re­built on the fly af­ter sur­ren­der­ing over 500 yards in con­sec­u­tive losses early this sea­son.

Humphrey has been asked to per­form du­ties of a shut­down cor­ner, shad­ow­ing op­pos­ing of­fense’s No. 1 re­ceiver. Bran­don Carr is play­ing more snaps at safety with the de­fense’s re­plen­ished depth at cor­ner­back. Sec­ond-year safety Chuck Clark has been thrust into a start­ing role and now re­lays the de­fen­sive sig­nals as an ev­ery-down player.

And On­wua­sor, af­ter be­ing tapped to be the team’s next mid­dle linebacker, has moved back to his more nat­u­ral po­si­tion.

“There’s lead­er­ship by [be­ing] vo­cal and there’s lead­er­ship by ac­tions,” Bynes said. “Peanut def­i­nitely has been do­ing his thing in ac­tions. Last game he played amaz­ing and he’s just go­ing to con­tinue do­ing that.”

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