- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's not so much a drought as a unique opportunity. None of the six defensive linemen drafted by the Ravens over the previous eight years has had much of a shot to crack Baltimore's starting defensive front.
There's a rare question mark along the Ravens' defensive line this year after Arthur Jones signed with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency. Jernigan is among four players -- Brandon Williams, DeAngelo Tyson and Kapron Lewis-Moore are the others -- looking to start alongside Ngata and Chris Canty.
Jernigan has caught the eye of the Ravens' veteran offensive linemen during the first two weeks of offseason practices.
"He’s flashing a lot," guard Kelechi Osemele said. "He’s playing fast, especially for being a young guy and being thrown in there with the ones every now and then and it being a new system. He’s really coming along really well. We really need him to contribute this year, and I think he has the ability to do that.”
One of the questions surrounding Jernigan going into the draft was his durability. He was mainly used as a rotational player at Florida State, and last year was his first as a full-time starter.
Considered a potential first-round pick, Jernigan lasted until the middle of the second round. He was the fourth defensive tackle drafted, behind Aaron Donald (St. Louis Rams), Dominique Easley (New England Patriots) and Ra'Shede Hageman (Atlanta Falcons).
"That kid is really quick-twitch, really explosive and strong," offensive tackle Eugene Monroe said. "When they introduced all of the rookies in our first meeting, they put on a clip of him, and he just bench pressed a guy, threw him off and made a tackle. Hopefully, we can get a lot of that out of him.”
Even if Jernigan doesn't start, he is expected to play a big role in the Ravens' rotation up front. He also serves as insurance heading into next offseason.
The Ravens likely will want to reduce Ngata's $16 million cap figure in 2015 by signing him to an extension like Terrell Suggs. If Ngata balks, the Ravens can cut him and create $8.5 million in cap space. Of course, the only way the Ravens can do this is if they have enough confidence in Jernigan to fill that role.