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It’s debatable whether the Ravens have the best secondary in the NFL, but they might have the most depth, and it has already paid off this season.
Before the start of the season, the Ravens lost starting nickel cornerback Tavon Young for the year with a neck injury and now they will be without starting cornerback Jimmy Smith for a couple of weeks because of a sprained knee he suffered in the first quarter of Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins.
The Ravens are fortunate to have several players who can fill in. Those replacements aren’t as good as Young or Smith yet, but one of those players, Anthony Averett, could be in the future.
Averett, drafted in the fourth round in 2018 out of Alabama, played well in place of Smith on Sunday. The Ravens will probably cut down on some of his time on special teams now that he is a starter, but he can turn and run with most receivers and is physical at the line of scrimmage.
Smith has more experience, but Averett is more athletic. In high school, Averett won state titles in the 55 meters and high jump and once long jumped 25 feet, 2.5 inches, which at the time was the best mark in the country.
“They always told me to be ready, but it came a lot quicker than I thought,” Averett said of replacing Smith. "I was ready to go. I came here to play corner, so it wasn’t like a crazy surprise. I was prepared, and coach prepared me for it, so it was fine.
“I played a lot of special teams the last game. I was like on every phase except, like, kick returns, so toward that second half, second quarter, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m really dead.’ But when that third quarter, halftime came, I felt way better.”
Averett is reunited on the starting unit with fellow cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens’ top draft pick three years ago. The two started for two years together at Alabama.
“It’s fun,” Averett said of paring with Humphrey. “It feels like college a little bit. You like to tease each other about it, but it definitely is fun.”
Averett said that he has made a lot of progress since last season.
“It was like night and day compared to last year,” he said. “This year, I’m a lot more comfortable ... with the playbook and everything like that."
It appeared that the Ravens were going to use Averett at nickel more often until Smith got hurt. Averett’s athleticism helped him adjust to playing on the outside.
“I don’t think he really planned on playing that much corner in the game [Sunday], but he’s stepped up and stepped to the plate when Jimmy went out and really filled those shoes,” Humphrey said. “So he can kind of do it all, and that’s what we’re going to need going down the stretch while Jimmy’s out."
The Ravens like for their defensive backs to be interchangeable. Cornerback Brandon Carr can play outside or over the slot. Safeties Cyrus Jones, Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott can also play cornerback in some packages. Safety Anthony Levine Sr. also plays linebacker in certain passing situations.
The situation will come in handy because the Arizona Cardinals, the Ravens’ opponent Sunday, play in a lot of four- and five-receiver sets in new coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid attack.
“They are way spread out more than anybody else. It will be new to us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “But we’re pretty flexible in the way we organize our defense. We want to be interchangeable. We want to move people around in different spots, create matchups in scheme and cause confusion.”