The significance of replacing Ed Reed resonated strongly with new Ravens free safety Michael Huff, a feeling he imparted to the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Before Huff officially signed his three-year, $6 million contract, he texted Reed to let him know that his old job was in good hands. Reed left Baltimore and joined the Houston Texans last week when the nine-time Pro Bowl selection signed a three-year, $15 million contract.
“It means a lot,” Huff said Thursday afternoon during an introductory news conference at team headquarters. “He's one of the greatest, if not the greatest free safety to ever play the game. I just told him that I'll carry on his legacy, carry on the tradition of great safeties in Baltimore. I'm definitely going to go out there and hold up my end.
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“For me to come in here, I don't really feel like I'm following his footsteps. I'm more kind of starting my own legacy and going in here to help the defense and help us win.”
Cut by the Oakland 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, is regarded highly for his tackling and positional flexibility, lining up everywhere from free safety, strong safety and cornerback. And the former Texas standout has a reputation for strong character.
“He's just a tremendous player, a tremendous guy,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He fits us really well both football-wise and technique-wise, the type of person he is, the type of family man he is. He's going to enable us to keep doing the things on defense that we have been doing and even build on those things. He has done it all because he's smart, he's tough and he knows how to play the game.”
Huff is nearly five years younger than Reed, and $9 million less expensive over the span of their contracts.
Huff has only missed four games in seven seasons since being drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2006, five selections prior to the Ravens landing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome didn't exactly make it a secret that the organization was enamored with Huff heading into that draft. Now Huff is part of the reigning Super Bowl champions.
“Ozzie talked to me and told me how much he liked me coming out,” said Huff, who has recorded 453 career tackles, 11 interceptions, 5 1/2 sacks, 57 pass deflections and four forced fumbles. “Things didn't work out then, but seven years later, at least I'm a Raven. Everything happens for a reason.”
A former high school track star from Irving, Texas who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds when he was entering the NFL, Huff visited the Dallas Cowboys earlier this week before agreeing to terms with Baltimore. He also talked with the Green Bay Packers.
“At this point in my career, it's not chasing money, it's not chasing things like that,” said Huff, who will wear No. 29 in Baltimore. “It's chasing that Super Bowl ring. Baltimore is that place. You want to come here and win a Super Bowl. This is where you want to be.”
Although the Ravens trounced the Raiders, 55-20, last season, quarterback Joe Flacco didn't have much success throwing in Huff's direction at M&T Bank Stadium. The Super Bowl Most Valuable Player was intercepted once and completed just 3 of 7 passes for 65 yards thrown to receivers covered by Huff. Flacco, who also had two pass deflections, had a 36.9 quarterback rating against Huff, according to Pro Football Focus.
“As soon as I see [Flacco], I'll have to give him a hard time,” Huff said with a laugh. “I'll always replay that.”
The Ravens intend to line up Huff at free safety, but he does offer them the ability to shift to cornerback in nickel and dime situations. Huff started 14 games at cornerback last season for Oakland because of injuries.
At 6 feet, 211 pounds, Huff provides good mobility and instincts. A glance at his highlight reel shows Huff barreling into the backfield to sack San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. In another sequence, Huff picks off an errant Peyton Manning pass.
“The thing that stands out is you look at a guy in the back end who has a lot of range,” Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin said. “He's a good tackler and he's durable. Guys I know who've coached him have lots of good things to say about him.”
The Ravens are attempting to overhaul a defense that lost inside linebacker Ray Lewis to retirement, cut strong safety Bernard Pollard and didn't retain free agents Reed, cornerback Cary Williams, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and outside linebacker Paul Kruger.
They've signed four free agents: former Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears and Huff.
Huff never experienced a winning season in Oakland and was quickly sold on the Ravens' tradition of success.
While attending the Longhorns' Pro Day workout in Austin, Texas, this week with Ravens cornerback and fellow Texas football alum Chykie Brown, Huff told Brown he wanted to be with the Ravens. So, Brown got Austin on the phone.
Reed's departure gave Huff confidence that Baltimore was the right place for him.
“Anytime you see a great organization like this and you see a guy leaving your spot, you think, ‘I can play that spot,’” Huff said. “I can come in here and fill that role and hopefully not leave any drop-off.”
The Ravens begin their offseason workout program April 15 and have organized team activities from May 21-23, May 29-31 and June 4-7. Their full-team mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 11-13.