Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees recently acknowledged he had few clues about who will emerge as the team's third cornerback.
The competition to replace veteran nickel back Corey Graham began to take shape Thursday night against the San Francisco 49ers during the Ravens' preseason opener at M&T Bank Stadium. The leading candidates for the vacancy saw their stock travel in opposite directions.
Although cornerback Chykie Brown got the start with veteran Lardarius Webb out with a lower-back injury, he didn't capitalize on the opportunity. Brown's struggles continued as he was flagged for two penalties in the first quarter, including a pass interference penalty that was declined and a defensive holding penalty.
"We just got to adjust to how they're calling it this year," Brown said of the increased emphasis from officials on pass interference penalties. "We knew it was going to happen. We know how to play it now. I was just doing what I do and the way I was taught to play. Now, I'll know next time."
Meanwhile, cornerback Asa Jackson turned heads with an acrobatic leaping interception of an errant pass from 49ers backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert that was intended for tight end Derek Carrier.
"I'm just going to keep going out there and try to make plays and try to become the best player I can be to contribute to this team," Jackson said. "This is not a one-on-one game. It's not a me-versus-anybody else game. It's a team game.
"Part of your job as a corner is to make the plays and as a football player just make the plays that you're supposed to make. I set myself up in a good position and that's a play I'm expected to make being an NFL corner."
Jackson is known for his athleticism, but has been suspended twice during his first two NFL seasons for violating NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs for unauthorized use of Adderall. Jackson obtained the required authorization for a medical exemption this year to use the prescription drug, which is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“He has really jumped out there and impressed everybody,” secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo said recently of Jackson. “He's doing a lot of things we knew he could do. He's a feisty player. People are going to knock him because of his lack of height, but he plays big.”
Jackson suffered a strained rhomboid, but downplayed the severity of the back injury and predicted he would practice this weekend against the 49ers.
"I'm fine, no problems at all," Jackson said. "I'm just a little sore in my back. No more jumping, you won't see that out of me again on returns. I can guarantee you that."
Veteran cornerback Dominique Franks, another competitor for the nickel back vacancy created when Graham signed with the Buffalo Bills in March, intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter.
"I'm not really focused on the competition too much," Franks said. "I'm just going out there and trying to play the best that I can. I've been in the league so I'm auditioning for 31 other teams as well as this one. You just put out good film and hopefully I'll be here. I want to be here, but it's the coaches' decision.
"It was a good break. It was a real good break. I think the receiver wanted to run a curl. I could have picked the dig, too."
Brown is routinely close to the football in coverage. However, the former University of Texas player has allowed several touchdown passes in practice and struggles to track the football quickly enough.
“He was blessed with long arms and great ability,” Spagnuolo said of Brown. “We're looking for him to keep progressing, and he'll be fine. It's kind of that point of confrontation when the ball is arriving that we really need to work at, and he knows that. He needs to be able to turn and find the football and make a play when the situation calls for him to do that. He has all the ability in the world and he works his butt off.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun