As a rookie, Weaver demonstrated brute strength and hustle along with a technician's style that drew comparisons to former Ravens pass rusher Rob Burnett. Weaver always played the run aggressively. Yet, the second-round draft pick often found himself grasping for air as he missed out on sacks by mere inches. Weaver was also stymied somewhat by a high ankle sprain incurred almost immediately upon reporting to training camp last summer in Westminster. "I had a good year last year, but it definitely didn't meet my expectations," said Weaver, who finished with 65 tackles and second on the team with 3.5 sacks. "So, I hope to continue to get better in my pass rush and create some havoc back there."
Football isn't a sport where simply having the requisite desire is enough, though. Recognizing that he needed an additional edge, Weaver spent months back at Notre Dame after the season lifting weights with his college strength coach. Weaver also earned his degree in government from the tradition-rich school where he started all four years and was a team captain. There's a difference, physically and mentally to Weaver's approach, this summer, according to teammates on both sides of the football. "Tony has definitely made a lot of improvement," All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "He's more confident. Tony's one of those guys kind of like myself, real mild-mannered off the field, but when he gets on the field he turns it on."
Weaver duked it out with intimidating offensive tackle Orlando Brown back in minicamp. Although he's nearly four inches shorter and roughly 50 pounds lighter than Brown, Weaver didn't back down. "Tony's understanding of the game and tempo have increased," defensive end Adalius Thomas said. "He has the ropes down. He's big, quick and physical and holds down left end very well. He's a tough guy."
The Ravens coaching staff, particularly fiery defensive line coach Rex Ryan, have continually praised Weaver since drafting him. Now, like Weaver, they're looking for a new bottom line: increased production. Perhaps Weaver's most complete football game last season came in a win over the Houston Texans. He generated a sack of top overall draft pick David Carr along with four tackles, one forced fumble and three quarterback pressures. "Yeah, it's just a matter of finishing," Weaver said. "It's just that extra technique, bringing your hands, things that Rex has taught me. "Not having to start from scratch from the beginning and getting better from my base from last year could help me tremendously."
As much as Weaver cites self-belief, it's also a matter of having a repertoire of moves to call upon. Like every defensive end, especially one who stands 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Weaver can bull rush. He also employs a spin move, a rip technique and a deceptive speed rush. He's working at becoming more adept at using countermoves once an offensive lineman turns back his initial charge. Weaver is versatile and bulky enough to operate inside at tackle, too. "I have a lot more confidence in my pass rush whereas last year I was experimenting with new things," Weaver said. "Now, I have things that work. I'm better at studying film. I know what to look for and I can take advantage of my opponents' weaknesses."
Beyond film study, Weaver has the added benefit of the magnetic effect that outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware are certain to have on blockers. Weaver wants to become efficient enough at cleaning up on quarterbacks' attempts to escape Boulware and Suggs' grasp that he'll be included in all probable passing downs. For Weaver to justify that increased status, he'll have to do more than stuff the run. The Ravens want him to contain and corral several quarterbacks, beginning with the ultra-elusive Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick this weekend at the Georgia Dome. "I want to be that cleanup guy," Weaver said. "Hopefully, I can be the guy that forces the quarterback to Suggs and Boulware so it can work both ways. I'm ready to go."