The Ravens’ first round of roster cuts did nothing to address the team’s situation in the secondary, specifically their logjam at safety. Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis and Matt Elam, not to mention Terrence Brooks, Anthony Levine and Nick Perry, all remain on the roster, and Brynden Trawick could be returning as well.
One thing that has become abundantly clear, though, is that team officials view converted cornerback Lardarius Webb as one of the answers to the safety question. That is despite Webb not playing safety extensively – he did play the position more and more in the second half of the 2015 season – since he was at Nicholls State.
“He has a chance to go back there, move around and make plays on the back end,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s a smart football player. He learns fast. I don’t think he’s going to have any problem picking up the position, plus he gives you the flexibility.
"You can drop him down to cover receivers in the slot. You can blitz him. He can play outside if you want him to. You can really match up pretty well with him at safety a lot of different ways. I think he has a feel for zone coverage, whether it’s the deep third or the deep half. He’s got a knack back there; he’s got good ball skills. He should be a really good safety.”
If the Ravens’ offensive focus this season is on fixing the team’s running game, the defensive focus is on forcing more turnovers. The Ravens had a league-low six interceptions last season and had a minus 14 turnover ratio. Only the Dallas Cowboys (minus 22) were worse.
Team officials are hoping that the hiring of former NFL defensive back and head coach Leslie Frazier to coach the secondary will help improve those numbers. They also are hoping that Jimmy Smith, who wasn’t 100 percent until the second half of the season after having foot surgery the previous year, will contribute in that category. They are looking to add a couple of cornerbacks either in free agency or the draft and possibly another safety.
But they also very much view Webb, the 30-year-old who was the top’s top cornerback not too long ago, as one of the primary solutions. Webb has 12 career interceptions and was the Ravens’ primary punt returner before Jacoby Jones arrived in 2012.
“Number one, he’s a good tackler,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said of Webb during his news conference at the NFL scouting combine. “He’s very instinctive and he’s got great ball skills. You can tell he’s got great ball skills when you watch him out there catching punts. He’s very natural. You got ball skills, you can tackle and he understands the scheme. We think he can be a very good safety for us.”
Webb, who took a pay cut last offseason to remain with the only NFL organization he’s ever played for, is due to make a $5.5 million base salary in 2016. He counts $9.5 million against the cap, prompting speculation that the perennially salary cap-challenged Ravens could let him go this offseason, or at least ask him to take another pay cut.
However, Newsome vehemently denied that last week, saying Webb “will be a starting safety at that number."
“If you watch some of the numbers that some of the safeties are going to get in free agency, you’ll realize that we’ve got him at a very good number,” Newsome said.
Newsome wasn’t asked specifically about Hill ($4.75 million cap number), Lewis ($1.8 million) or Elam ($1.3 million). Perhaps, those are questions for another day.
It’s clear that the Ravens view Webb as an answer in their elusive quest to fix the secondary.