The Ravens' defensive overhaul has significantly impacted the secondary, with the departure of three starters from last season.
Both starting safeties from 2012 have left the building, with free safety Ed Reed joining the Houston Texans on a three-year, $15 million contract and strong safety Bernard Pollard signing a one-year, $2 million contract with the Tennessee Titans. Cornerback Cary Williams signed a three-year, $17 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Ravens signed former Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick Michael Huff to a three-year, $6 million contract to replace Reed. They plan to give veteran James Ihedigbo the opportunity to replace Pollard, but he's likely to face competition for the job potentially from a rookie draft pick.
Despite the changes for the 17th-ranked defense in the league from last season (20th against the run, 17th against the pass), secondary coach Teryl Austin is confident that the secondary will adjust well.
"It will be a lot different, but the system is in place," Austin told The Baltimore Sun. "Everything else is in place. It's just a matter of guys adapting to what we do. The guys do a great job. I'll be helping the new guys. We all want to be great."
In transitioning to new personnel, Austin pointed out that intelligence and ability to quickly pick up schemes are strong attributes for Huff and Ihedigbo, a former New England Patriots and New York Jets starter who was retained on a one-year contract prior to the start of free agency.
"That's what you look for look for: guys who are smart football players, real professionals and guys who are unselfish," Austin said. "Last year, we brought in Corey Graham and he's an unselfish guy who started the year on special teams. By the end of the year, he was probably our best corner. Some would say he played extremely well. And it was because he's unselfish."
Ihedigbo recorded 19 tackles, one sack and a pass deflection last season, starting three games and playing in every game.
He had six special-teams tackles, but the 6-foot-1, 214-pounder is expected to have a greater role on defense this season.
"The best guy has to play," Austin said. "It doesn't matter where you're drafted and how you got here. If you're here and are performing the best, you're going to play. James brings veteran leadership. He's been in a lot of big games. I have a lot of confidence in James."
The biggest plus for the secondary is the anticipated healthy return of $50 million shutdown cornerback Lardarius Webb, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament against the Dallas Cowboys last season and was placed on injured reserve.
Webb has repeatedly told The Sun that he's ahead of schedule in his recovery and has been diligently rehabilitating his knee at the Ravens' training complex.
"It's going to be huge," Austin said of Webb's return. "Absolutely, Webbie is an outstanding player. Love me some Webbie. He's really working hard in the weight room and getting ready because he's excited about this upcoming year."
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