Reservations about reserve corners

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens' depleted secondary became deflated.

One week after the reserve cornerbacks eased concerns about their playing abilities, those same reservations resurfaced last night in the second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Ravens' first-string defense, with reserve cornerbacks Frank Walker, Fabian Washington and Corey Ivy, were consistently burned by Minnesota receivers as the Vikings threw for 223 yards, 154 in the first half when the starters for both teams played.

On a night the Ravens were expected to find an answer about their starting quarterback in the Kyle Boller vs. Troy Smith competition, the most pressing question was: What happened to their cornerbacks?

A week ago, Washington had two interceptions and Walker had tight coverage all over the field against the New England Patriots. Last night, Washington looked lost in coverage on Martin Nance's 23-yard touchdown pass from Tarvaris Jackson in the first quarter.

Walker looked lost all night. The Vikings repeatedly went after him, especially when they needed a big play. Walker was always a step behind or a step slow. There were times when he didn't turn around to play the ball, even though the receiver had looked up for the ball seconds before.

That's a violation of a basic rule. That's what will have defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and coach John Harbaugh scratching their heads this morning. What happened? What went wrong in one week? And it wasn't just poor coverage. There was some poor tackling as well.

The Ravens aren't going to panic about last night. You have to keep everything in perspective. The Ravens were without six defensive starters, including defensive linemen Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata, safety Ed Reed and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Sometimes Jackson made plays with his mobility to move around in the pocket. There were other times when the Vikings had too much time to throw, such as on wide receiver Robert Ferguson's 5-yard touchdown catch from Gus Frerotte in the second quarter. Frerotte had time to look at four receivers.

"That wasn't Ravens defense," Ryan said. "Our communication from the coaches and on the field wasn't what it should be. You can put that on me. We didn't contain the quarterback, and that can't happen.

"We gave them too many plays," Ryan said. "We didn't close. If you get near the quarterback, you have to make the play. We didn't do that."

Some of the mistakes can be corrected. Others will be covered up when the starting lineup is intact. But in the back of your mind, there is some doubt, because Washington was benched last season in Oakland because of poor tackling, and Walker was benched in Green Bay after failing to play well at nickel back, a position he was given when he first arrived in Green Bay.

Walker and Washington were supposed to make a difference for the Ravens this season. A year ago, when starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle missed most of the season with injuries, the Ravens had to change their defensive philosophy.

The Ravens like to pressure quarterbacks with their front seven, leaving their cornerbacks in one-on-one or press coverage. But young players such as cornerbacks David Pittman and Ronnie Prude, and even a veteran such as Ivy, had trouble playing that style.

Walker and Washington were supposed to specialize in man-to-man coverage, which is why the Ravens signed them as free agents during the offseason. A week ago, the Ravens played well in the secondary as Rolle, McAlister and Reed missed the game against the Patriots because of injuries.

But it was different last night against the Vikings, and it has to raise a few eyebrows with only two games left in the preseason.

To make matters worse, no one really knows whether the three starters in the secondary will be ready for the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. And it certainly doesn't appear all three will make it through the 16-game regular-season schedule without being hurt again.

Rolle missed the first two weeks of training camp because of the death of his father and practiced for only three days before he was held out of practice with an injured knee. McAlister has had swelling in his knee consistently since training camp started, and he missed extensive practice time.

Reed hasn't been involved in a full-contact practice yet and left some doubt last week about being ready for the opener.

There were already enough questions about the Ravens' secondary, and more surfaced last night.

"Secondary-wise, we just need to focus on our communication," safety Dawan Landry said. " ... We gave them two touchdowns, one in the first quarter on miscommunication, and in the second quarter with miscommunication."

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