Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb darted around the practice field this week, quickly breaking on the football to knock down passes and challenge veteran wide receiver Steve Smith.
In October, it will have been a full two years since Webb tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while covering Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant.
There's a big difference in terms of how much Webb trusts the knee now to not only support him, but also to allow him to react, sprint and jump to do his job.
"It feels good, it feels more bouncy," Webb said. "Just happy to be on the field, running around with no pain. Just trying to take over my leadership role that I can in the back end and just be me."
What does that mean for Webb? After recording 74 tackles, 22 pass deflections and two interceptions last year during a solid season that didn't meet his personal standards, Webb is hopeful that he's about to regain his form from two years ago when he was emerging as one of the top young cornerbacks in the NFL.
"I am capable of being a lockdown [cornerback], like I am," Webb said. "I'm just ready for the season and will just keep on working. I'm going to get back to where I'm supposed to be."
Webb is entering the third year of a five-year, $50 million contract that includes $15 million in guaranteed money.
In five NFL seasons, Webb has 255 tackles, 63 pass deflections, 10 interceptins and two forced fumbles.
He ranked 21st among all cornerbacks and was the top-ranked Ravens cornerback last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He was frequently targeted early in the season, when quarterbacks threw in his direction a team-high 40 times through six games as he allowed 25 catches for 384 yards and one touchdown with a 62.5 completion percentage.
It wasn't easy to go after Webb, though, by the end of the season.
"At first, I was just trying to get the trust back again," Webb said. "I couldn’t plant when I wanted to, couldn’t do the things I wanted to do, couldn’t jump. Everything just wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be. And then towards the end of the season, it just started coming back natural, as I kept working on it.”
Webb is relishing his practice competitions with Smith, a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver who signed a three-year, $11 million contract in March after being cut by the Carolina Panthers.
"The guy is as strong as an ox, and that helps me out, to get prepared for the season," Webb said. "He runs great routes and he’s making me better, and I’m making him better, too, because I’m challenging him, just like he’s challenging me. We just want to be great, us both. That’s both of our mindsets.”
Webb is also looking forward to his annual charity softball game Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
The game will include quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Torrey Smith and several other players. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said he'll attend, plus former Ravens free safety Ed Reed is in town for the game.
"It’s going to be a beautiful day," Webb said. "I even got coach ... to come out. I don’t know if he’s going to play yet, but he said he’s going to come out and support us and be around. So, I’m thankful for that.
"It’s going to be offense versus defense, and it’s going to be a great, competitive game. We’ll keep everybody safe, but it’s going to be a great experience, and I feel thankful just to have it in [M&T Bank] Stadium.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun