On his first night as the Ravens' primary punt returner, Tom Zbikowski dared fate at least once and got away with it.
In the third quarter of the team's 10-9 season-opening victory over the New York Jets on Monday night, the starting free safety fielded a 56-yard punt by Steve Weatherford at the Ravens' 5-yard line and then ran laterally in front of the goal line looking for a running lane.
He found none and took a 4-yard loss to the 1 on the play, putting the Ravens in tough field position. Afterwards, Zbikowski admitted he got caught up in the moment.
"I took a chance on that one," he said. "I lost track of where I was. I lined up on the 15, and I thought I was drifting more left, but I felt myself going back a little bit. I didn't know I was that deep."
For Zbikowski, who tied a Notre Dame record with three punt returns for touchdowns, Monday night's performance was uneven at best.
His best return was on the game's first punt, when he went 10 yards. But after that, he returned three punts in the second half for a combined total of -5 yards, running into a Jets coverage team that was stout all night.
"The first one, I had a little opening," Zbikowski said. "I think maybe I could have taken it to the outside. [But] they were coming hard all night."
Zbikowski acknowledged that there is room to grow, a sentiment echoed by his coach.
"I thought he did a nice job of catching the ball and securing the ball, but I think he tried too hard to make a play," coach John Harbaugh said. "Sometimes guys will do that in their first outing. You've got to respect the guys covering a little bit more and take the ball north and south. … Zibby will learn from that. We had a good conversation about it on the train, and it was good-hearted. He'll be fine, but we need better."
Harbaugh wouldn't go as far to say that he is not considering other options on punt returns. Chris Carr averaged 8.2 yards on 32 punt returns last season.
"We'll see," he said. "We never rule anything out. Chris Carr's an option and so are some other guys. But Zibby, I think he'll be good at it."
Webb unfazed by deactivation
Lardarius Webb had targeted the team's season opener for his return from the anterior cruciate ligament he had torn in his right knee on Dec. 20, but the comeback was delayed as the cornerback was declared inactive by team.
"We didn't know," Webb said of his readiness for the Jets. "I was just coming prepared to play. We were going to come to a group decision, and the decision was for me to sit out."
Solid performances by Fabian Washington and Carr helped alleviate any pressure on Webb, who said, "We're not going to rush it. … I would like to be around the Ravens for a while, and I just want to be 100 percent when I do give them my 100 percent. I will be back soon."
Harbaugh said on Tuesday that the organization would continue to be cautious with Webb.
"It's just a healing process," Harbaugh said. "… We've said before, we don't want to rush those guys back. We didn't want to rush Fabian back. Fabian, we really had to hold back. Lardarius, between he and the doctors and what we see, we're just going to take it slow. We want it to be right when he comes back. I thought he had a chance to play last week, and he wasn't able to do it in the end. I think he's got a chance to play this week. Whether he can do it or not, it's really going to be his decision."
Nakamura answers the call
Because of the deactivation of Webb and fellow cornerback Bryan McCann, the Ravens lined up Haruki Nakamura, a safety by definition, in the slot in the nickel defense all night, and he held Jerricho Cotchery to two catches and 18 yards out of five balls thrown his way.
Namakura saw his contribution in the bigger picture of the defense.
"We only had seven guys [active] as defensive backs," he said. "We were very limited. We have guys that can play any position, including safety. Every person plays a role and you're asked to do a job, and you've got to step up and do it."
Harbaugh praised Nakamura, saying, "With Haruki, I don't think we anticipated necessarily him to this level being able to cover in the slot. Now he's got some things that he does really well, and of course, he's got limitations. … But he understands the defense really well, he's very quick and athletic, and he's a playmaker. Those are things that are hard, and in that position in there, those are the most important things, if you understand what you're doing."
Cousins not surprised at inactivity
The decision to start Marshal Yanda at right tackle could be interpreted as concern on the part of the coaching and training staff about the health of offensive tackle Oniel Cousins.
Cousins, however, said he continues to improve with each day, and he understood the decision to be a reserve Monday night.
"I kind of expected that because of the concussion," Cousins said of the injury he suffered Aug. 18. "I just came back and it was good for me to go back out to practice and do some stuff. I kind of knew that I would be up for the game, and I got ready for the game, but I knew more than likely I wasn't going to start. But I had to be ready to play. I'm just going to play my role out and see how it turns out. Regardless, I'll be ready to start or play whatever my role is. I'll always be ready to go."
Extra time helps Yanda, Chester
With Yanda and Chris Chester playing right tackle and right guard respectively, last week was about re-familiarizing themselves with their "new" positions.
Yanda, who has made 11 of 21 career starts at right tackle, lined up there against the Jets, while Chester, who has spent more than half of his 38 career starts at right guard, played that position.
Chester said the duo benefitted from the long week of practice afforded by the season opener being scheduled for Monday night.
"We had a longer week with the Monday night game, and that definitely helped," he said. "There was that time to kind of knock the rust off. I felt pretty good tonight, and I think Marshal did, too."
Dickson's mind on the road and at home
As if Ed Dickson didn't already have a few butterflies in his stomach about kicking off his NFL career, the rookie tight end was especially anxious in the minutes prior to the team's season opener against the Jets.
That's because his fiancée Ashley Swartz went into labor. But just before the team left the locker room for the kickoff, Dickson's mother called him with the news that Trey Michael James Dickson had arrived, weighing eight pounds, eight ounces.
"I was just happy," said Dickson, who was awarded a game ball by Harbaugh afterwards. "I just wanted to cap the night off with a victory. First Monday night game, first road game. We went out and battled it out and got the victory."
Harbaugh said he did not have an update on rookie outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, who visited Baltimore on Sept. 5 for further evaulation of the fractured skull that he suffered before the start of training camp in July. "No, I don't," Harbaugh said. "I wish I did." … Donte' Stallworth took to Twitter to clear up an erroneous ESPN comment. According to the wide receiver, ESPN analyst Keyshawn Johnson said that Stallworth would miss the remainder of the season because of the broken foot that he suffered in the third preseason game on Aug. 28. Tuesday morning, Stallworth wrote via Twitter (D_Stallworth18), "Contrary to remarks made by my big homie Keyshawn on @espn last night, I'm not out for the season. Walking fine w/o crutches…Feeling good! :)" … Defensive tackles Brandon McKinney and Lamar Divens did not play Monday night. … The Ravens announced Tuesday that they reached injury settlements with guard/center David Hale (bruised tailbone) and offensive tackle Stefan Rodgers (right ankle) and waived both players.