So you were a highly touted free agent that was signed away from your former team and now, you’re returning months later to the same place you’re all too familiar with, this time as a member of the opposition. The fact that the NFL is a business kind of smacks you in the face in the aforementioned situation and it’s center Ryan Jensen that will be faced with that exact scenario this weekend in Baltimore.
“That’s just part of the business,” Jensen said. “You can’t take things personal in a business like this.”
Business or not, Jensen spent the first five seasons of his career with the Ravens, starting every game at center in 2017 and snapping to quarterback Joe Flacco. Earlier this week, Head Coach John Harbaugh made the expected-yet-unexpected move to start rookie Lamar Jackson over the now-healthy veteran. That means a little bit of a different style than Jensen was used to on the offensive side of the ball, but he is still looking forward to seeing his old flock, if you will.
“It’s going to be awesome to go back up there and play the old squad,” Jensen said of his return. “I was with them for five years so it’s going to be different. It’s the first time I’ve played an old team but it’s going to be fun to see all the guys up there and the guys I competed with. But for me it’s all business. It’s going to be fun.”
Jensen will face a more immediate challenge in going up against a defense he’s only faced in practice the last five years. Though that side of the ball isn’t without its changes, either.
“He’s helped out just with personnel,” tight end Cameron Brate said of how Jensen has been able to help the Bucs prepare for his former team. “The defensive coordinator, this is his first year, so he can’t help us out too much there but just as far as personnel strengths, weaknesses, stuff like that.”
“It’s a lot of the same guys,” Jensen added. “But obviously with Wink [Don Martindale] taking over as the defensive coordinator, he has his own couple little tweaks to the defense but it’s a very similar defense.”
That defense includes a scheme that thrives off confusion. Baltimore sits on the leaderboard of multiple defensive categories, including a stingy 18.5 average in points allowed per game, good for first in the league. They’re giving up the second-fewest yards behind only the Buffalo Bills, of all teams, with a 294.0 average and sit third and fourth in passing and rushing yards allowed, respectively.
“They give you different looks,” Head Coach Dirk Koetter said of the Ravens’ defense. “What makes it [difficult] – they walk those linebackers back up into the line of scrimmage. We call it mug – mug linebackers. They mug those linebackers up into the A and B gaps. They make it difficult on your double teams. They make you identify where they’re coming from and then they’re good at changing it at the last second. They’ll show you one look and then on the snap they’ll give you another look.”
They aren’t without their holes, though. While the defense is in the top five for fewest first downs allowed and lowest opponent third-down percentage, they have a shockingly low number of takeaways, ranking 31st in interception rate. They also haven’t been very good at red zone defense, allowing an opponent to score on 65.71 percent of trips inside the 20. That ranks in the bottom tier of the league at 25.
Still, they’ll have the advantage of being the home team up in Baltimore, where it’s expected to be colder and maybe even rain. M&T Bank Stadium is a tough place to play, too, by Jensen’s own admission. Though, he was always on the beneficial side of the noise.
“It gets loud,” Jensen said. “It’s a fun stadium to play in as the home team. Obviously this is my first time playing in it on the away team, but it’ll be loud.”
As far as chirping back and forth with his former teammates, Jensen said the trash talk has so far been kept to a minimum. That may be a bit unexpected from a guy who’s known for his aggressive playing style, but he remains friendly with many remaining Ravens.
“My buddy Max Williams, who’s a tight end over there, and I were texting back and forth,” Jensen said. “Him and I are pretty good buddies and it was funny, we were joking around about when Tuesday came around, we were no longer friends, we’re enemies.”
There are a few other Baltimore connections within the Bucs locker room outside of the fiery center. His fellow offensive lineman Donovan Smith lived in Owings Mills, Maryland, which houses the Ravens’ training facility, growing up. He also played high school football there.
Head Coach Dirk Koetter and wide receivers coach Skyler Fulton have some Ravens ties. Well, one Ravens player, in particular. Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs played at Arizona State for one year under then-Head Coach Koetter. Skyler Fulton was on that team as a wide receiver and will now be coaching against his former college teammate.