Baltimore Ravens rookie Odafe Oweh displays athleticism in unlikely new role

JONAS SHAFFER
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Odafe Oweh (99) looks on between play during the third quarter of an NFL preseason football game New Orleans Saints, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

The first Baltimore Ravens player downfield on the team’s first punt coverage unit Saturday night was the biggest player on the field. Probably the fastest, too. Definitely the only special teams player wearing a jersey in the 90s.

When the Ravens took Odafe Oweh in the first round of the NFL draft, team officials talked excitedly about all the things the Penn State edge rusher could do on defense. His special teams potential, though, went mostly ignored, if it was discussed at all.

But a year after the Ravens limited their newest athletic marvel to defensive responsibilities — inside linebacker Patrick Queen played just 18 special teams snaps as a rookie — Oweh appears on track to double-dip in Year 1. He’s spent training camp learning not only how he fits in Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense, but also how his 6-foot-5, 251-pound frame can be a weapon on Chris Horton’s special teams units.

In the first quarter of their preseason opener Saturday night, the Ravens unleashed Oweh as a gunner. Lined up over New Orleans Saints cornerbacks Prince Amukamura (6-0, 206 pounds) and Grant Haley (5-9, 191 pounds), Oweh took an outside path upfield, toward the sideline, and could not be diverted. He accelerated, and once he got even with Amukamara, he made a beeline for punt returner Easop Winston Jr.

Amukamura kept within touching distance, but it was not a fair fight; he looked like a point guard trying to keep LeBron James out of the lane. Winston signaled for a fair catch when Oweh was still over 10 yards away. He did not want to take any chances, not with No. 99 fast approaching.

“I think it’s just an opportunity to show my athleticism, show my speed and physicality,” Oweh said. “It was fun. Just running down the field and forcing them into a fair catch and everything, I just hope the next time, I get an opportunity to make a play. That was definitely fun, though. I love doing it.”

If Oweh’s role carries over into Week 1, he wouldn’t be the first Ravens gunner to break the mold. Adalius Thomas was one of the NFL’s best and biggest to line up there in the early 2000s, a 6-2, 270-pound missile who drew double teams on punt coverage units. More recently, the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings have deployed pass rushers Brian Burns and Everson Griffen, respectively, as jumbo-sized gunners.

Whatever Oweh can contribute on special teams this season, it’s unlikely to overshadow his defensive production. He was active throughout the Ravens’ win Saturday, finishing with 20 snaps on defense and three on special teams.

In the first quarter, he shed tackle Ethan Greenidge easily to help stop running back Devonta Freeman for no gain. In the second quarter, he beat Greenidge on an outside pass-rush move, forcing quarterback Jameis Winston to run into defensive lineman Chris Smith and rookie defensive back Brandon Stephens for a sack. Later in the quarter, Oweh dropped deep into coverage on a third-down completion to running back-receiver Ty Montgomery.

“It felt good,” he said of his preseason debut. “It was a big moment. I had to get the jitters out in the first few plays, but after that, it was just football. I was just trying to be active and play hard. I love it. It was a really good experience.”