Why the Ravens' David Ojabo can't wear 55, and why he's not looking back

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Outside linebacker David Ojabo revealed this week that he had a number on his mind this offseason, and it had nothing to do with sacks in his first full NFL season.

Ojabo was looking to wear No. 55, his jersey number from Michigan. But it’s been unofficially retired by the Baltimore Ravens since Terrell Suggs, the franchise’s all-time sacks leader, left five years ago.

"Suggs is not letting me,” Ojabo said. "Yes, we had discussions. We got [Ravens owner Steve] Bisciotti involved a little bit. That’s above me. [Suggs] is a legend, so I’m going to stick with [No.] 90.”

Ojabo added, "Numbers don’t really mean much; it’s what you do with the number.”

Failing to get his old jersey number actually fits into the mindset of Ojabo, whose focus has been moving forward.

Last year at this time, Ojabo was standing off to the side, watching the start of offseason workouts. He couldn’t participate because he had torn the Achilles tendon in his left foot on his pro day, which caused him to go from a potential top-15 draft pick to a second-round selection.

Now, 14 months removed from that injury, Ojabo is running all over the field. He’s exploding off the line and maneuvering around tackling dummies.

Ojabo looks nothing like the banged-up rookie from a year ago, and he made it clear that he doesn’t want to revisit that time of his career.

“Honestly, I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m really tired,” Ojabo said. "It’s in my past. I’ve grown from it. It’s made me stronger. And yes, I’m ready to move on from it. I’m 110%.”

Baltimore activated Ojabo off injured reserve last season after he missed the first eight games. But Ojabo was inactive for seven of the last nine games of the regular season, playing a total of 21 snaps.

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said Ojabo didn’t play regularly because of “a numbers issue.” Baltimore had four healthy outside linebackers in Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser, Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul.

With Baltimore not bringing back Houston and Pierre-Paul at this point, the Ravens are banking on Ojabo to provide pressure off the edge.

"The first thing is, he has a full year of the program to physically get himself to a spot,” said Macdonald, who was Ojabo’s defensive coordinator in 2021 at Michigan. "He looks great. I feel like he’s put on some good weight and looks stronger and looks fast right now, and more than anything, mentally, I think he’s in a great spot, as well. So, I think you’re going to see a lot of confidence from him throughout the process.”

Ojabo put on “a solid 10 pounds” this offseason and wants to play at 255 pounds. As far as mentally, Ojabo doesn’t seem motivated to prove he should have been drafted in the first round.

“I know I’m here for a reason,” Ojabo said. “So at the end of the day, it’s just to come show what I've got."

In his final season at Michigan, Ojabo delivered a career-best 11 sacks and five forced fumbles (which led all Power 5 players) in his only full season of college football. In his only full game last season, Ojabo caused a fumble in the regular-season finale at the Cincinnati Bengals, slapping the ball away from quarterback Joe Burrow.

"He’s smooth with his rush, and then in the run game, he’s getting better every day, and he’s so smart,” said Oweh, who has been friends with Ojabo since they were high school teammates at Blair (New Jersey) Academy. "So, his ceiling is … he doesn’t have one.”

If a fully healthy Ojabo causes havoc this season, he can be linked to Suggs, albeit not by a jersey number. The Ravens haven’t had a player with double-digit sacks since Suggs had 11 in 2017. Only the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons have gone longer without a pass-rusher recording at least 10 sacks.

“I honestly feel better. I swear, I feel better,” Ojabo said. "I feel more explosive. I’m ready to put on a show.”