Michael Pierce has seen his share of dominant defense players during a six-year NFL career that’s taken in stops with the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings. Pierce has played with the likes of Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Matthew Judon, Earl Thomas, Marcus Peters, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, Patrick Peterson and Eric Kendricks.
So it’s safe to take Pierce’s word when he identifies potential greatness in a rookie. That’s just what Pierce has seen during training camp to begin his second tour with the Ravens.
The 29-year-old returning veteran has noticed something special about a first-year player who should make an instant impact for the Ravens in 2022.
“Special” Lineman Already Getting Noticed
Pierce singled out Travis Jones for praise following the Ravens’ practice session on Saturday, July 30, per Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun:
The confident proclamation Jones is “special” and is “going to be nice” should excite Ravens fans. This is a franchise that’s established a niche for finding disruptive and hulking trench warriors in the draft.
Pierce played with one such monster in the middle, Brandon Williams, a third-round pick back in 2013. Jones was taken at the same stage this year and will likely be counted on to help replace Williams, who remains a free agent.
Williams was the immovable force at the heart of the Baltimore front seven. The 6’1″, 336-pounder anchored the defensive line by playing over center, absorbing double teams and disrupting the run.
Jones will be expected to do similar things, and it’s a role the former UConn standout is ideally suited to perform. He tips the scales at 6’5″ and 333 pounds, and Jones made it his business to snuff out running plays at their source during his time at Connecticut, a trait illustrated on this play highlighted by Bleacher Report’s Connor Rogers:
A play like this means Jones should be right at home with the Ravens, who continue to boast the stingiest run defense in the NFL. Last season the Ravens allowed just 3.8 yards per carry and a league-low 1,436 yards on the ground.
Linemen like Williams and the returning Calais Campbell were big reasons for the stout run defense. Campbell will welcome the arrival of a special talent like Jones to offset losing Williams and Derek Wolfe’s retirement.
Jones will be an asset against the run, but his impact won’t be limited to just one phase of an offense.
Pass-Rush Skills the Most Intriguing Part of Jones’ Game
For somebody his size, Jones has displayed surprising quickness when getting after the passer. His useful habit of putting pressure on the pocket yielded 4.5 sacks during his final season at the collegiate level.
More than the numbers, Jones regularly made life uncomfortable for quarterbacks, the way he did on this play against Clemson, highlighted by DLineVids and NFL Scout BR:
Considering Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic noted Jones “was a handful, especially in pass-rush drills” at camp, the rookie is showing he can translate this ability to the pros. That’s good news for the Ravens because the defense needs to put more heat on opposing passers after logging just 34 sacks and allowing 4,742 yards through the air, the most in the league, last season.
It’s also true that being able to rush the passer as well as stuff the run is what separates great defensive linemen from the merely good ones. Campbell has got it, proofed by his impressive 87 career sacks. Former Ravens great Haloti Ngata also knew how to make his presence felt against both the run and the pass.
Obviously, it’s too early to put Jones in the Campbell and Nagta bracket just yet, but the rookie set lofty goals shortly after he was drafted, per Todd Karpovich of Sports Illustrated’s Ravens Country: “I have the mindset to go out there and dominate every snap I’m on the field.”
Judging by Pierce’s reaction to what he’s seen at camp, Jones is already staying true to his word.