Position Battle At Safety Has Chance To Be Exciting In Ravens Training Camp
The new-and-improved Baltimore Ravens secondary will look much the same but slightly different in 2013 than it did in 2012.
Gone to the Philadelphia Eagles is corner back Cary Williams. Jimmy Smith looks to build upon his solid showing in the postseason, while Corey Graham looks to keep his starting spot and Lardarius Webb works back from last season’s ACL tear in his left knee to reclaim his starting spot.
Meanwhile, the Ravens emerge from this year’s OTA’s in good shape at the safety position after an intense mini-camp designed to get players up to speed after rigorous off-season workouts.
Former first-round pick Michael Huff and this year’s first round selection, Matt Elam have both shined thus far in mini-camps and while Elam is the last remaining Raven rookie not to be under contract, he’s expected to sign his name on the dotted line shortly and will be able to fully participate in training camp at the end of July.
Both Huff and Elam give the Ravens flexibility at the position as both can play either strong or free safety positions. Huff has done it before, filling in for injuries and starting at both FS and SS during his career with the Oakland Raiders. Both have the size (Huff at 6’0″ and Elam at 5’11”) and both have shown outstanding speed and hands in the mini-camps.
Matt Elam brings a hard-hitting style from his college days with the Florida Gators which fits right into what the Ravens expect out of their safeties. What coaches have to be happy about is Elam’s recognition to find the ball. According to the Baltimore Ravens website, Elam picked off passes from Joe Flacco during mini-camps.
There’s one more player that will also be in the mix, a holdover from last year’s safety position, James Ihedigbo. Ihedigbo, along with Huff brings veteran presence to the team and the ability to play both positions.
Signed just before last season, Ihedigbo was expected to make an impact on special teams and play a reserve role behind both Reed and Pollard. Instead, injuries forced him into the starting lineup where he shined, starting three games, recording a crucial sack in a November 11th Ravens win at Pittsburgh. He’s a physical specimen at 6’1″, 214 pounds, and has cover skills that will suit him more at strong safety.
What’s to be certain throughout the summer is, all three come to camp with the intent to push each other in the pursuit to claim starting roles.
With deep threat speed at wide receiver peppered about on the other three teams in the AFC North, the importance of cover speed will be crucial to the Ravens success this season. Michael Huff appears to have that covered.
Taking away the middle of the field and downfield threats will give rookie Matt Elam the chance to roam and the team has already put him on the move, lining him up everywhere while he gets comfortable in the defense and is showing playmaking abilities. Defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, likely wants to get the season started right now to interchange and maneuver his new toys in creative packages in 2013.
That would leave Ihedigbo to be the backup at both positions and give the Ravens one of the more deep backends of the secondary in all of football.
Of course, training camp has yet to start and a lot can happen from the end of July until the start of the season on September 5th with injuries and ineffectiveness. Other players like Christian Thompson and Omar Brown will vie for backup play time and they’ll get that time in pre-season games to show off their skills.
With the additions to the unit, the lineage of tough, physical and talented play at the safety position for the Baltimore Ravens continues. This year, it may be the deepest, talented and most exciting yet.
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.