Breaking it down: Lardarius Webb played at a Pro Bowl level last season and was justly rewarded with a six-year, $50 million contract in April. He’ll start on one side and likely draw the opposition’s top receiver. But the Ravens’ other starting corner will be decided during the preseason after what is expected to be a spirited battle between Cary Williams and second-year player Jimmy Smith.
Williams, 27, started all 18 games for the Ravens last year and was one of the team’s biggest surprises. While he didn’t have any interceptions, he finished second on the team in passes defended and third on the team with 77 tackles. He proven that he’s a starting-caliber cornerback in the NFL. However, he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip in February and his recovery slowed some of his preparations for the upcoming season. Still, he’s expected to be a full go at some point early in training camp, and he’ll need to be to hold off Smith.
A first-round pick in 2011, Smith had an uneven rookie season but certainly showed glimpses of becoming a standout corner. He didn’t play a defensive snap the first five weeks because of a high-ankle sprain. He started three games and finished the season with three interceptions, including one in the AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots.
There were times where he looked very much like a rookie, but the Ravens’ coaching staff and front office are extremely excited about Smith’s potential. He has earned rave reviews for his work in the team’s offseason conditioning program, and Smith has dropped some weight to better deal with speed receivers.
The bottom line: With the number of quality quarterbacks the Ravens play this season and with so many teams turning to pass-heavy game plans, the Ravens will need more than two solid cornerbacks to get where they want to go. So no matter who starts across from Webb, Smith and Williams figure to be on the field together often. It’s a tough competition to call because Williams did nothing last season to lose his starting job, but the Ravens have much invested in Smith, who they feel will develop into a Pro Bowl cornerback. Smith may have the edge going in as Williams works his way back from the surgery. Beyond them, the battle for the other cornerback spots on the roster is also worth watching. Special teams ace Corey Graham, Danny Gorrer, Chykie Brown and rookie Asa Jackson will all be in the mix for playing time.