New Ravens safety Darian Stewart confident he's 'interchangeable'

The Baltimore Sun

When the Ravens' starting defense breaks the huddle this fall, there's a strong chance that Darian Stewart will be starting at either free safety or strong safety.

The Ravens signed the former St. Louis Rams safety to a one-year, $1.3 million contract in March with designs on installing Stewart as a potential starter.

It remains to be seen whether Stewart replaces James Ihedigbo at strong safety, becomes the free safety if Matt Elam shifts to his natural strong safety spot, or winds up competing with a rookie draft pick at one of the two spots.

"I feel like I’m interchangeable," Stewart said. "Whatever they want me to do, whether it’s special teams, defense, anything position-wise on defense, I feel like I’m able to excel in it. I feel like they’ll get an overall safety."

Although the Ravens are expected to explore the safeties in the NFL draft -- including Alabama standout Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Louisville's Calvin Pryor, Washington State's Deone Bucannon and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward -- Stewart could provide an experienced option in the secondary.

“He could definitely start,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week. "He has started quite a bit in the past. ... He can definitely play free safety. And Matt can play free safety, too."

Stewart started six of 13 games last season for the Rams. The 5-foot-11, 214-pound player had 36 tackles, a forced fumble and four pass deflections last year.

Stewart, who played collegiately at South Carolina, knocked Arizona Cardinals running back Ryan Williams out of a game two years ago with a shoulder hit. Stewart was a regular starter three seasons ago.

In 2011, he recorded a career-high 91 tackles.

He returned his lone NFL interception for a touchdown against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Ravens secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo recommended the former undrafted free agent based on his time with Stewart when he was the Rams' head coach.

"Coach Spags is a great guy," Stewart said. "He brought me in, and he put a lot of faith in me. I can’t wait to be reunited with him. I know we work well together, and I know we’ll get a lot of stuff accomplished.”

Durability issues have prevented Stewart from establishing himself in the NFL as a regular starter.

In particular, Stewart has dealt with frequent hamstring problems.

“That’s kind of kept him from really taking off as a player, but, when you watch the tape, he’s playing really well," Harbaugh said. "He’s going to make sure he gets in probably the best shape of his life and stay healthy, and with our situation he’s going to be competing for a starting spot. Now how that changes throughout the draft, we’ll see.”

That's the primary caveat to anointing Stewart as a definite starter this season.

"The only problem with Darian is he couldn't stay healthy," said retired former Rams defensive tackle D'Marco Farr, an analyst for the organization's broadcasting team. "When he was out there, he was impressive and not just a head-hunter. He took great angles to the football. He was a real good safety. If you had one wish, you wish he could have stayed healthy.The shame of it all is his body would break down on him. That's the frustrating part. It was all over his body. He would go out and practice and one day it was his hamstring or knee or something. When he was hurt, Darian always looked like he was mad and wanted to be out there. He was always helping out, not just sitting on the sidelines. He was engaged."

Stewart said he's intent on getting his body prepared for next season to ensure that he'll be available every week.

"I’m just making sure I eat right," Stewart said. "And with my hamstring, I’m doing whatever I can to stay out there on the field -- just doing extra treatment and things for my legs and making sure I’m in the best shape come offseason workouts.”

As Stewart gets acclimated to his new surroundings and learning the playbook, he's upbeat about his situation.

"It feels good," Stewart said. "This is a great franchise, and it’s one that competes for a championship every year. It feels good to be a part of a franchise like that."

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