Queen’s score against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5 last season represented more than his first career touchdown. It was surprisingly the first time he felt like he was up to speed physically.
“It’s insane. Last year, I didn’t go into the season in shape at all,” Queen said. "I came in like 240-something, couldn’t catch my breath when we were running.”
One of the top rookies in the league last year, Queen made this startling statement to explain the biggest difference between last year and this one. The pandemic led to the cancellation of all in-person workouts last spring and an abbreviated training camp, all of which put Queen and a lot of first-year players behind.
This year, Queen already had three weeks of workouts prior to Baltimore’s mandatory minicamp. He’s been taking rep after rep in the heat while wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
"It’s just so hard when you’re not doing any football activity outside of working out, so that last offseason was terrible,” Queen said. "I came into [last] season, and I was like, ‘Bro, this is going to be a long season for me to get in shape.’ So, it took me like five games to get in shape, finally.”
Queen’s first season was filled with plenty of splash plays and some stumbles. He finished third in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting -- behind Washington’s Chase Young and Carolina’s Jeremy Chinn -- which irked him. “Top 3 my a--,” Queen tweeted immediately afterward.
The 28th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Queen led the NFL’s No. 7 defense with 105 tackles. To put that in perspective, that’s five fewer tackles than what Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis had as a rookie.
Queen's most memorable hit was when he met a leaping Washington running back Peyton Barber at the goal line with his right forearm, knocking Barber backwards off the pile. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he became the first rookie in more than two decades to record at least 100 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one defensive touchdown.
But Queen struggled at times when covering running backs and tight ends in coverage, and shedding blocks. He was briefly taken off the field after being beaten in coverage by Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and whiffing on him in the open field.
"For me, during the offseason, I already have thinking problems -- I like to think too much about stuff,” Queen said. "Stuff is always on my mind, 24/7. Once something happens, it’s always on my mind. So, you think about that the whole offseason, and that’s a long time. That’s like four or five months before you come back and you can communicate with your teammates, so you really take that personally.”
Queen likes to sit down with coaches to go over his mistakes and talk about what he could have done differently. The change this year is his position coach is now Rob Ryan (the brother of Rex), who won a couple of Super Bowls with the New England Patriots as their inside linebackers coach and spent 12 seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator.
Ryan is constantly telling stories about past players, and shows that he cares about his players like a father, Queen said.
"The inside linebackers will play better than what they have in the last two years because [Ryan is] that good of a coach, and he's going to make that big of a difference," Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said.
The Ravens certainly know how to find premier players at that position. Before Queen, the last two middle linebackers drafted by the Ravens in the first round — Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley — combined for 16 Pro Bowls.
Could Patrick Queen follow that same path?
“I’m proud of myself. It’s hard to make it to this level -- let alone be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year,” Queen said. "So, I’m proud of myself, and I’m still hard on myself. As I look back, pass coverage, stuff is so easy that I’m getting now, that last year I was just messing up time and time and time again. Now, it’s just simplifying everything. I really can’t wait for the season to start, so everybody could see how much work I’ve put in to be better.”