After the Ravens’ 28-12 stunning loss to the Tennessee Titans in an AFC divisional-round playoff game last season, cornerback Marlon Humphrey said the words few of his teammates wanted to hear.
“This team’s identity right now is to get in the playoffs and choke,” Humphrey said. “It is what it is. That’s just the hard truth.”
Humphrey was emotional, but he told the truth. The following offseason was going to tell a lot about his true character. After a Pro Bowl season in only his second year, was he going to rest and settle on the accolades? Or was he going to work harder to become possibly the best at his position in the game while helping the Ravens get over the proverbial hump and win a Super Bowl?
The verdict is in.
“I would say he’s notched it up one more notch from an attention to detail and intensity perspective,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Marlon is all over the field. He’s physical, he’s running to the ball, [and his] eyes are where they are supposed to be in coverage.
“I would say he’s taking it up another notch, which is really impressive, because some guys aren’t mature enough to handle the attention, and he’s really done a good job of that so far in training camp. And I don’t think for one second anything will change going forward, because that’s just the type of person he is.”
Humphrey’s transformation started in training camp last season. He was always one of the first in line for every drill and never took a play off. He has been that way during the first three days of training camp the media has been able to watch, and he’s also been a leader.
He shadows receivers and runs until the whistle. He has been harassing young receivers such as Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay, but is also giving them high-fives and praise when they beat him.
Humphrey smells championship potential in this team.
“After last year, it was cool to get some of those accolades that I’ve always dreamed of since I was young,” Humphrey said. “The only thing I really want is a Super Bowl. I know Lamar [Jackson] has spoken about that a lot. I think if all eyes are looking towards that, looking towards that … that’s the mindset we’re trying to take every day in practice, every day in meetings and all the things we do — it’s just eyes on that.”
Humphrey has the right approach. Even though he was the team’s top draft pick out of Alabama in 2017, he doesn’t have the credibility to be as jaded or as pompous as a veteran, such as fellow cornerback Marcus Peters or safety Earl Thomas III.
Now, if he puts up another big season, he’s on to something.
Last year was his breakout season. Humphrey finished with 65 tackles, three interceptions, knocked down a team-leading 14 passes and forced two fumbles. He made big plays in big games. He registered a game-high seven tackles and blocked a 51-yard field-goal attempt in a 20-17 win against the San Francisco 49ers.
He had six tackles and returned a fumble 70 yards for a touchdown in a 37-20 win over the New England Patriots and forced and recovered a fumble by receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to set up Justin Tucker’s game-winning 46-yard field goal in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lining up opposite Odell Beckham Jr. for the first time, he held the Cleveland Browns’ star receiver to two catches for 20 yards.
There isn’t much Humphrey can’t do.
At 6 feet and 197 pounds, he is fast enough to run with any receiver and strong enough to play in press coverage at the line of scrimmage. He can play outside or over the slot, and even match up with a tight end if necessary.
Combined with Peters and Thomas, the Ravens had one of the best secondaries in the NFL last season. If the team can get a consistent pass rush from ends Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe and outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, they might have the best defense with a top cornerback in Humphrey.
“We did well last year. It’ll be the same guys — well, Tavon [Young] is back — but, for the most part, it will be the same guys,” Humphrey said. “But it’s a whole new season, and every season is slightly different. It’s really encouraging to start the year with Marcus, start the year with Tavon. Jimmy’s [Smith] back [after he] signed with us in the offseason. We’re really good.
“With Marcus, no one has gotten the ball in [their] hands — interceptions — as many as he has since he’s been in the league. Him and Earl, he gets the ball, too. Just having all those playmakers, there’s just so many different minds and thoughts: How we can see this, how do they see this? So, I’m just leaning on those guys to help myself get the ball a little more often. We’re all just jelling together.”
It’s easy to understand why Humphrey trained so hard during the offseason. He ran track workouts with his sister, who competes at LSU. He ran the rock pile with his brothers in Alabama.
It’s all in the pedigree. His mother, Barbara, set Alabama-Birmingham’s still-standing record in the outdoor 400 meters (53.30 seconds). His father, Bobby, was an All-America running back at Alabama in 1986 and 1987 and became a first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 1989 before earning Pro Bowl honors in 1990.
The legacy continues.
“The offseason was a lot different. You had to get pretty creative; I ended up at some playgrounds, ended up at Wade Sand and Gravel [Company] in Birmingham, Alabama — that’s where I was running up those rocks,” Humphrey said. “Actually, my little brother told me to come check that out. We did a lot of family workouts and it was good.”
Now, it’s time to finish some business. That Titans loss still stings.
“I was on the field during the Super Bowl and [was] just walking around, watching the other teams warm up,” Humphrey said of last season’s game in Miami between the Kansas City Chiefs and 49ers. “The energy I felt down there in Miami, it really just triggered my whole offseason into just thinking, ‘Man, the only thing I really want is a Super Bowl.‘
“It all goes one step at a time, one practice at a time, one drill at a time.”