The secondary should be one of the Ravens' most entertaining groups.
First, free safety Eric Turner and strong safety Stevon Moore are two of the NFL's hardest hitters. They are the inspirational leaders of the defense. And their performance as run stoppers and especially in pass coverage -- where the Ravens will employ more man-to-man in defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis' scheme -- will go a long way toward dictating the season's outcome.
Turner is recovered from a back injury that forced him to miss the last half of the 1995 season. Moore, who had five interceptions, 143 tackles -- second on the team -- and was a Pro Bowl alternate last year, has started 48 consecutive regular-season games.
The Ravens enjoy depth at safety, where veterans Vashone Adams and Bennie Thompson are backups. Thompson, whose reputation is built on his special teams work, should get his share of opportunities on defense, as well.
"Bennie is one of those guys who leads all day long, on and off the field," Lewis said. "He has a presence out there, and he will play a big role on defense."
Things are more unsettled at cornerback. Left corner Antonio Langham followed a dynamic rookie season in 1994 with a subpar season last year. He remains the team's best one-on-one coverage player. On the right side, third-year player Issac Booth has all of the physical tools, but he gave up enough big plays in the preseason that first-year player Donny Brady is pushing him hard.
Then there's rookie DeRon Jenkins, the second-round pick out of Tennessee who looked lost early, but is getting better each week.
"Antonio has total confidence in himself, and Booth is going to be a fine starter in the NFL, if he indeed wins the job. He has the ability," Lewis said. "I saw Rod Woodson get beat in Pittsburgh for touchdowns against supposedly lesser players. . . . Quarterbacks and receivers are too good in this league. They are going to catch some balls."
Strengths: Eric Turner and Stevon Moore are one of the top safety tandems in the league.
Weaknesses: Unless Donny Brady or Issac Booth emerges as the clear-cut right cornerback, the Ravens could be vulnerable there.
Key to success: If Brady, Booth and DeRon Jenkins keep making progress, depth on the corners will not be a problem.
Pub Date: 8/31/96