Reacting instinctively as quarterback Joe Flacco launched a deep throw toward the sideline during an offseason practice, free safety Michael Huff accelerated toward the football to deflect it out of bounds.
It was an example of the range the Ravens envisioned from Huff when they signed the speedy former Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick to a three-year, $6 million contract.
As the replacement for former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed, who joined the Houston Texans on a three-year, $15 million contract, Huff doesn't have Reed's 61 interceptions as the NFL's active career leader. However, he is younger and faster.
And the Ravens are hoping Huff's versatility pays dividends for them this fall.
“It’s great," said Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin when asked about Huff's positional flexibility and cover skills. "He has great range. He has really good speed. We all know he has played corner in the past. He has played safety, so he gives us a lot of flexibility matchup-wise.
"He can cover, he can blitz, he can play in the back. We will use that to the best of our ability to try to confuse quarterbacks and try not to line him up in the same place all the time.”
Cut by the Raiders prior to free agency when they were unwilling to pay him a total of $8 million this season, Huff is a once-heralded first-round draft pick who hasn't emerged as a dominant player in the NFL like Reed.
Huff, 30, has lined up at free safety, strong safety and cornerback. And Huff is off to a quick start as he transitions to the Ravens' scheme.
"Michael Huff is doing well also, he’s playing fast," cornerback Corey Graham said. "He’s a rangy guy. He covers a lot of ground. He’s making a lot of plays. He’s picking it up well."
Huff was selected seventh overall by the Raiders out of Texas during the 2006 NFL draft. He has recorded 453 career tackles, 11 interceptions, 5 1/2 sacks, 57 pass deflections and four forced fumbles.
Huff looks at replacing Reed as an honor, eschewing comparisons.
"I think we know we have big shoes to fill," Huff said. "Obviously, Ed is one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever, to play the game. Definitely, it will be a tough task, but obviously, we are our own players. We just have to go out there and kind of play our game, not kind of live in the past, to start our own legacy. I think we will be just fine. There’s only one Ed, and there’s only one Michael Huff. So, I’m just going to go out there and play my game.”
Huff has had conversations with Reed recently and has known him for years.
“I’ve talked to him a few times, like I said before, because I’ve been talking to him for a while," Huff said. "He’s been one of my mentors and been one of the guys I watched. Obviously, with Ed, he’s one of the greatest to ever play. So, I obviously want to emulate him and make plays like he does.”
The Ravens coveted Huff during the 2006 NFL draft, but wound up with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the first round that year.
Now, Huff is getting acclimated to his new football team after years of losing in Oakland.
“I think the adjustment period has been good, because I’ve had a lot of veterans taking me under their wing," Huff said. "Ray [Rice], Torrey [Smith] and Corey Graham have kind of taken me under their wing. They kind of teach me the ropes on the field, off the field, things like that. The adjustment period has been good.”
In a revamped defense without Reed and retired middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Huff is one of several new starters. He prefers to primarily send a message to his teammates through his actions.
“Really just lead by example," Huff said. "Just go out here and work hard every day, show them that I’m here to work. I’m here to carry on the legacy and the tradition. Like I said, just win some games.”
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