Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb had regained trust in his surgically repaired left knee by the end of last season.
He became confident enough to plant without hesitation to backpedal, break on the football and accelerate into coverage.
It was the first year back for Webb after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in October 2012 while covering Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, enduring some rough moments early last season while knocking off rust and strengthening the knee.
As the Ravens got into the final month of the season, though, Webb began to display his old form from previous seasons when he was emerging as a shutdown cornerback.
"By the end of the year, my knee was feeling a lot better," Webb said Friday night in a telephone interview with The Baltimore Sun. "I was able to run and cut and do everything I wanted to do. I had so much more confidence and trust in the knee. I'm feeling great now."'
Webb recorded 74 tackles, 22 pass deflections and two interceptions last season during the second year of a five-year, $50 million contract that included $15 million in guaranteed money.
Although Webb had a solid season it was below his personal standards. He also dealt with a sports hernia that ultimately required surgery.
"It was just good, not great," said Webb, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee as a rookie. "I went through my second ACL and I was trying to get my legs back under me and get my knees right and get back to the flow and speed of the game. I did okay, not as good as I wanted to. I'm excited about this year. I'm feeling good. I'm into this offseason healthy."
Through six games, Webb was targeted a team-high 40 times and allowed 25 catches for 384 yards and one touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus, with a 62.5-percent completion percentage. He finished the season ranked 21st among all cornerbacks and was the top-ranked cornerback on the Ravens, according to the football metrics site.
In five NFL seasons, Webb has 255 tackles, 63 pass deflections, 10 interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Webb is looking forward to competing in practice against newly-acquired wide receiver Steve Smith. The five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver signed a three-year, $11 million contract with the Ravens in March after being cut by the Carolina Panthers.
"It will be me against him in practice every day, making each other better," said Webb, who's holding a charity softball game June 1 at M&T Bank Stadium. "Getting to guard him in practice will make me even more prepared for games."
During a press conference at Camden Yards later Friday prior to throwing out the first pitch at an Orioles game, Webb continued to praise the addition of Smith.
"He’s a big-time player," Webb said. "He loves to win. I told Harbs, he plays like a Raven, physical, hate to lose, that toughness. He fits in our locker room. That's going to be big for our offense and defense.
"With me going against him every day, with how he practices and the way he plays, his attitude about the game, is going to make me 100 percent better. I love the matchup. I can’t wait to meet him. It’s going to be big.”
The Ravens' secondary will be making some adjustments after nickel back Corey Graham signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Buffalo Bills. Chykie Brown is the frontrunner to become the new nickel back, but will face competition from Asa Jackson.
"We’re going to miss Corey," Webb said. "He fit so well with our defense, because he can play corner and nickel back. Me and him were able to swap out at times. We were able to learn from each other.
"Now we’ve got Chyke Brown. He’s a great addition. He’s been there, but he’s never had that chance since Corey was there. But he’s going to be big this year and we have to just put it all together.”
The Ravens will also have a new secondary coach in former St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who replaces Teryl Austin. Austin was hired as the Detroit Lions' defensive coordinator.
“I’ll miss TA -- he taught me a lot while he was here," Webb said. "He’s a smart man. Steve, he’s different. He’ll come at it with a different approach.
"He’s going to help me, Jimmy and Chyke Brown, and Asa Jackson. Just talking to him, just how he thinks about the game, he’s a smart man and I’m just ready to learn from him.”
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