Why is Jalen Ramsey the player to push the Dolphins over the hump? ‘He loves the battle’
The question caused Jalen Ramsey to raise his eyebrows and cock his head to the side for a moment, almost in an “If you say so” manner.
For those who say maybe you are past your prime, what do you say?
“Aight,” he responded, a wry smile appearing on his face.
“Did you see me play this past year?” he then quipped.
After a follow-up, Ramsey gave a more expansive answer.
“You got to put on the film now. You got to really watch it,” he said. “You don’t become this successful without actually doing good things on that field and having the respect from your peers and media. We’re going to see. We’re going to see what those guys say once we are out on the field.”
At 28, Ramsey is a multi-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection. A Super Bowl champion. One of the best cornerbacks of his generation.
Even if he was happening to come off his perch as one of the NFL’s preeminent cornerbacks — which he clearly doesn’t believe — his résumé would be one that ends in a trip to Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But when Ramsey spoke to local reporters at his introductory news conference last Thursday, he spoke of wanting to cement his legacy — “I think I am a Hall of Famer but I’m trying to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer” — and helping lead the Dolphins, a championship-craved franchise, back to the sport’s pinnacle.
‘Probably the best player on any team he was put on’
Before he was an accomplished All-Pro, the trash-talking cornerback that you love to hate, Ramsey was a native of Smyrna, Tennessee, a suburb about 15 minutes from downtown Nashville. He grew up with his father, Lamont, mother, Margie, and older brother, Jamal.
“Your typical American, working-class neighborhood,” said Lamont, a 20-year veteran of the Nashville Fire Department who now trains athletes. “Everybody gets up every day, go to work, come back in the evenings with kids running around, stuff like that.”
Lamont played college football at Middle Tennessee State and eventually, Jalen’s older brother would, too. Though the experiences and training from Lamont proved beneficial, Lamont said Jamal was just as influential to a young Jalen.
“You know how the little brother tags along, wants to do whatever the older brother’s doing,” Lamont said. “I didn’t push it to him but he saw his older brother playing all kinds of sports and he wanted to play them. He was always the little kid running who was running around while his brother was playing until he could play.”
Jalen was blessed with preternatural athletic ability and his edge was in part carved by those childhood matches with his brother and peers older than him.
“He was always probably the best player on any team he was put on,” said Lamont, who coached him through much of his youth. “Definitely the most aggressive player that he was on.”
As a kid, the walls in Jalen’s room were adorned with posters and magazine cutouts of the University of Miami and the Dallas Cowboys, his favorite teams. He coincidentally would go on to play college football for the Canes’ rival, Florida State. And in the 2016 draft, he was selected fifth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars — one pick after Dallas took Ezekiel Elliott.
“He was Miami everything,” Lamont said. “His room was Miami and Cowboys ... but [UM was] one of the few teams that didn’t recruit him at all.”
Lol fun fact: what’s crazy is growing up I was a Miami Hurricane fan… I used to visit & all then they didn’t offer me so I started to hate everything Miami & went to FSU
Then I was a Miami heat fan when Bron was there of course
& now I’m a Dolphin fan! LIFE!
— Jalen Ramsey (@jalenramsey) March 17, 2023
The passion that Jalen so vividly showcases on Sundays is the same as it was in youth ball, his father says. Maybe some coaches down the line weren’t able to respond to it and channel it properly, but it was always present and came from a player who “really cares about it.”
“If you hang out with him or hang around him enough,” Lamont said, “you’ll see that he’s not the same Jalen on the field, off the field. He’s goofy, having fun, playing with his daughters and nieces and nephews. He cares about people, that’s one thing. He wears his emotions on his sleeves because he really cares about people. When I hear people say, ‘He’s a jerk or he’s an a--hole,’ I say, ‘Y’all have never met him.’”
Jalen was a blue-chip recruit, starring on both sides of the ball and in track and field. He fielded about 30 scholarship offers and eventually committed to Florida State. Over the next three seasons, he became the first freshman cornerback to start since Deion Sanders. A consensus All-American. A national champ. And a unanimous top-10 prospect in the draft.
‘A wrestling persona’
During his time in Jacksonville, Jalen quickly established himself as one of the better — and more brash — cornerbacks in the league. He often blanketed the NFL’s top receivers and then let them know about it, run-ins with Steve Smith Sr. and A.J. Green among his notable dust-ups.
“I think it’s almost like a wrestling persona. He flips a switch when he competes,” said Cody White, his football coach during his senior year of high school at Brentwood Academy.
The Jaguars were 3-13 in Jalen’s rookie season but made additions to the roster and, propelled by the defense, advanced to the AFC Championship Game. But after that feat, Jacksonville dropped back to a below-500 team.
“Really until he got to Jacksonville, he had never been on a team that lost,” Lamont said.
Midway through the 2019 season, amid a fallout with the organization and a trade request, the Jaguars sent Jalen to the Rams, who one year later made him the richest corner in NFL history. Three years after Los Angeles fell to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 53, Ramsey, playing a versatile role on defense, helped the Rams defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the championship game. He was also voted a captain for the 2022 season, the first time in his career.
Though Los Angeles stumbled to a 5-12 finish this past season, advanced metrics say Ramsey had one of his better seasons. But with few picks and little cap space to restock the roster, the Rams pivoted from their “all-in” approach, jettisoning multiple vets. Ramsey was among them, being traded to the Dolphins three days before free agency opened.
‘He loves the battle’
As Ramsey realized he could be traded, he landed on Miami as a prime destination spot, closer to his family and with an up-and-coming team.
The manner in which the Dolphins acquired Ramsey in last week’s trade offers similarities with his arrival in Los Angeles, with both teams taking an all-in approach to eschew draft picks and cap flexibility for top-end talent.
But for Lamont, it’s different. His son came to the Rams two weeks before his 25th birthday to a veteran-laden squad that already made its way to the Super Bowl. He arrives in South Florida as an older — and wiser — player on a young team aspiring to win a championship of its own.
“He’s perhaps the most competitive young man I’ve ever coached,” said White. “He loves the battle. He loves the challenge.”
As Jalen’s news conference was coming to an end, he fielded a question about how the duo of himself and Xavien Howard compares to Pat Surtain and Sam Madison, the latter of whom is now the Dolphins’ cornerbacks coach and pass game specialist. Ramsey took a diplomatic approach, sidestepping the question. But he worked his way back to the question a reporter asked him not too long ago.
For those who say maybe you are past your prime, what do you say?
“We’re just going to get after it and then when it’s all said and done, then we can go over all of that and we can go over all about what people say that my man over there was talking about,” he said. “We’ll keep the receipts and we’ll go back over all of that when it’s all said and done after the fact. That’s what I’ve been doing in my career.”