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Big hitter Darian Stewart enters camp in lead for Ravens' free safety job

Uncoiling his upper body, Darian Stewart launched himself into Arizona Cardinals running back Ryan Williams.

When Stewart crashed into Williams' left shoulder and the side of his head on that play two years ago, the impact left Stewart lying on the ground for several minutes and ultimately knocked the running back Williams out of the game.

Now, Stewart is hoping to parlay his hard-hitting style into a starting job with the Ravens after signing a one-year, $1.3 million contract with them in March. The former St. Louis Ram lined up with the first-team defense throughout the offseason and enters training camp as the clear leader in a competition with Jeromy Miles and rookie Terrence Brooks.

"I make a lot of plays and tackles," Stewart said at the end of spring workouts. "I'm a good tackler. That's what you need back there at safety. You're the last line of defense. You just have to pick and choose your shots. I'm a physical safety who makes a lot of plays."

The Ravens have shifted Matt Elam back to his natural strong safety position after he started all but one game at free safety as a rookie with mixed results.

That leaves the free safety job open for Stewart.

"Darian looks good," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Darian has done a nice job."

At 5-foot-11, 214 pounds, Stewart plays with an aggressive style. He played a hybrid linebacker-safety role at South Carolina, lining up close to the line of scrimmage and operating as a blitzer and run-stopper.

Where Stewart has encountered problems in the NFL has been with his health. He's frequently experienced hamstring problems but says he's healthy now.

"I'm feeling good," Stewart said. "That's my main focus is trying to make sure I'm healthy and accountable. I'm stretching all the time and drinking plenty of fluids."

Injuries limited Stewart to 13 games and six starts last season as he finished with 36 tackles, a forced fumble and four pass deflections. Three years ago, Stewart had a career-high 91 tackles, his lone NFL interception, which he returned for a touchdown against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He also had three sacks and two forced fumbles during the 2011 season.

Stewart arrived in Baltimore after getting a strong recommendation from secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo, his former head coach with the Rams.

So far, the transition has gone smoothly.

"He's picking it up really well," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "Talking to him early on, it was a lot different than what he had been accustomed to, but he’s picked it up really well. He’s a smart football player, very conscientious, great in the classroom. I think he’s picking it up just fine. I’m pleased with where he is right now.”

Pees said nothing has been determined about who's going to start at this point, though.

"Yeah, it's competition in everything," Stewart said. "There's competition all over the league. We make each other better."

The Ravens are expected to give Miles and Brooks several opportunities to prove themselves during the preseason.

"I think they’re working hard," Pees said. "I think we have the right guys. I just think now it’s a matter of who beats who out, who shows up during the preseason a little more than anybody else. Right now, I feel good about all those guys back there."

awilson@baltsun.com
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