Patrick Queen expects a lot of improvement thanks to more normal offseason

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Patrick Queen expects a lot of improvement with a normal offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

2020 was a difficult year for a lot of people for a lot of obvious reasons, and that includes NFL rookies.

Professional football is tough enough to excel in, and missing out on most of a normal offseason of training and coaching was a major obstacle for the 2020 NFL Draft class.

Some players were able to shine more brightly than others, and some players looked like busts early on. In between the two extremes were players like Ravens first-round linebacker Patrick Queen, who was among the rookie leaders in tackles and forced fumbles but who also found himself out of position and missing plays too often.

Queen's up-and-down season wasn't the start he had hoped for in his NFL career, but now he has an opportunity to make a leap in year two. Part of the reason he expects to take a big step forward is simply getting in shape, a luxury he didn't have during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It’s insane, last year I didn’t go into the season in shape at all. I came in like 240-something, couldn’t catch my breath when we were running, it’s just so hard when you’re not doing any football activity besides working out, so last offseason was terrible, like I came into the season and was like, ‘Bro, this is going to be a long season to get in shape,’" Queen told reporters on Tuesday after practice. "So it took me like five games to get in shape finally. And just coming into OTAs this year was like, you get the practice, you get the training, you get to do whatever you want. You can do stuff on your own. So you can have the resources now to actually get in shape and do what you need to do to be prepared for when we come back to training camp and try to get to football shape. So it’s way better now."

Related: Ravens hope improvements to passing game will be a group effort 

Getting in the building early and often wasn't an option for Queen last spring, so he has been excited to take advantage and work on his game. He's also jumping at the chance to grow with his teammates and get better at communicating during live action.

Another advantage to a more normal offseason is getting to go up against some of the best competition in football on the other side of the practice field.

"It’s big. Like I said I thought about the passing game all offseason, stuff like that trying to get better for people like Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, all the great tight ends around the league," Queen said of facing the Ravens offense in practice. "Trying to work against them is hard every day. It’s a grind. But that’s the type of competition I like so every day I come in I try to get better, try to compete with those guys, that’s all the offseason training I did. I’m trying to put it to the test now, trying to see if I can guard those guys. So I feel like this is the best place I can be as far as the competition trying to get better."

Queen's head coach, John Harbaugh, agrees. The difference between 2020 and 2021 has been night and day in terms of how players are able to practice, and Harbaugh is happy to see his young players putting in the work.

"Just tremendous opportunity for these guys. All these reps that we’re getting, and you see it in the passing game...those are immensely valuable," Harbaugh told the media. "Especially at a position like inside ‘backer where you’re in the middle of everything and things are always moving fast around you. You have to make split-second, reaction-type of decisions. So it’s been great for him, it’s been great for Malik [Harrison], all of our guys."

While Queen was mentioned at times as a potential NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in 2020, some evaluators were much harsher on his performance. Pro Football Focus even graded him a 29.8 rating, which was 89th out of 90 qualifying linebackers across the league.

It's an historically low number for the website - the lowest rookie rating for any other first-round linebacker since 2018 is 50.0 - but it's interesting to note that three of the four lowest totals came from 2020 rookies. Linebacker is an incredibly difficult position to play, as Harbaugh noted, especially for a first-year player. So it's no surprise the position was hit particularly hard by the missed offseason training.

And interestingly, the rookie with the lowest rating prior to 2020 was Devin White, a rangy, athletic linebacker out of LSU who took a massive leap in his second season. Could Queen be on a similar trajectory as his former college teammate?

It's something he's been thinking about all offseason.

"Once something happens it’s always on my mind. So like the whole offseason I’m sitting there looking at coaches, looking at stuff I did that could be better like simple stuff I was getting beat on," Queen admitted. "You think about that the whole offseason, that’s a long time. That’s like four or five months before you come back and really get with your teammates and stuff. So you really take that personally, and that’s one thing that when you come back, you do not want to mess up anything. Cause that’s like so much stuff that you learn, so much experience in one short season. So I’ve spent a long time thinking about it, and it’s almost time now."

Queen made it clear how much he desires to improve, though he also emphasized how proud he was of his 2020 performance in a difficult situation.

Still, at the end of the day, the youngest defensive starter in Ravens history made it obvious he is his own biggest critic.

"I’m still hard on myself. As I look back at pass coverage it's like, stuff so easy that I’m getting out like now it’s just simplifying everything, just the experiences, so I’m learning it," Queen said on Tuesday. "I really can’t wait for the season to start, so everybody can see how much work I’ve put in to be better."