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Preston: Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey gearing up for a big season

The Ravens are hoping Marlon Humphrey’s rise to the top is as fast as his development last season.

The second-year player from Alabama says the game has slowed down for him from last season. Teammate and defensive tackle Brandon Willliams sees Humphrey eventually becoming one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL.

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“After watching him through the off season workouts and getting through the first couple of days of OTAs, that dude is going to be a player,” Williams said. “I always see his name at the top of the defense as far as points in practice.”

Humphrey, the team’s top selection in the 2017 NFL draft and No. 16 overall pick, has the potential to fill a major weakness this season. The Ravens are still in search of a shutdown cornerback and haven’t had one since Chris McAlister left in 2009.

The Ravens thought they had one in 2011 when they selected Jimmy Smith in the first round out of Colorado. Smith seemed to be on the verge of becoming one of the league’s top cornerbacks several times but has been hampered by injuries throughout his career.

Next up is Humphrey.

“The main things I want to focus on in year two is of course to be better and that includes my technique and making those plays to help win games,” Humphrey said after practice Thursday. “Pass breakups and interceptions. Those are the plays that change games and help our team to win.”

Humphrey had some of those plays last year. He finished with 34 tackles, knocked down 11 passes and had two interceptions. But that was as the No. 3 cornerback behind Smith and Brandon Carr, even though former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees thought about matching him up against Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown in the second game last season. Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards against the Ravens.

Current Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale lobbied Pees to match Humphrey up with Brown in that game, but Pees declined. It won’t be such a difficult decision in 2018.

Smith is still recovering from an Achilles tendon he ruptured in December. Coach John Harbaugh is hoping to have Smith back by the start of training camp in mid-July but that might be wishful thinking. As far as Carr, Humphrey should have hurdled him on the depth chart.

Humphrey, though, isn’t so sure, even though he has been running with the first team.

“With Jimmy hurt, starting is not my main goal right now,” Humphrey said. “I’ve never been on a team where the No. 3 got as much playing time as I did last year and I am thankful for that. I think if I am a veteran player and the Ravens draft a guy that player has to prove that he deserves to start. I respect those veterans in front of me. It’s their job to lose.”

OK, Humphrey has the respect thing down, probably something he learned from his father Bobby, a former NFL running back. But if he continues to improve he’ll find himself matching up with Brown as well as Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green.

Barring injury, it’s going to happen eventually.

At 6-foot and 195 pounds Humphrey has the size and certainly the speed to match up with top receivers. He has no fear and learned defense from one of college football’s top coaches in Alabama’s Nick Saban. In his second year, Humphrey appears to be more comfortable and it is clearly noticeable on the field.

“Coming back a second year things are a little slower,” Humphrey said. “Last year I couldn’t get in a groove. Things kept happening so fast and I didn’t ask what was next. Instead, I just pushed and pushed and kept my head down taking on what was next.

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“Now, I have more structure. I have learned some things from the older guys like taking care of my body and learning how to work. I know the process of offseason conditioning and then preparing for the OTAs and eventually training camp. Things have slowed down because I know what to expect.”

Well, almost. With Pees gone, Humphrey has to learn some new things under Martindale. According to several players, Martindale is less regimented than Pees and there aren’t as many terms and calls. They say players are allowed more freedom to make more plays and relying more on instinct.

That fits into a cornerback’s mentality.

“He is giving players chances to do different things within coverages and calls,” Humphrey said. “We are able to changes the plays on the field and be more flexible during calls. I think we can do well with that.”

And it might be the final piece in putting Humphrey over the top.

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