As a young cornerback building a career with the Ravens, Lardarius Webb enjoyed the comfort of knowing that whatever happened on the field, free safety Ed Reed was behind him to help the defense make a stop.
With Reed revisiting Baltimore as an assistant defensive backs coach for the Buffalo Bills in Sunday's season opener at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium, Webb will begin his first full NFL season at the position that his former teammate mastered. This time, Webb will be the security blanket for young cornerbacks like Shareece Wright and Will Davis and rookies Tavon Young and Maurice Canady.
"He made me feel a little bit secure because I knew he was on the back end and he was back there policing," Webb, 30, recalled of Reed after Thursday's practice. "Now I feel like I get to police for Shareece and them. Just being on top, helping them out a little bit, making them feel comfortable as a safety who can get sideline to sideline. Anything I can do to make them feel better and comfortable at their position, I'm down for it."
Playing safety is not an unfamiliar assignment for Webb, who started at strong safety for much of his senior year at Division I-AA Nicholls State. When the Ravens used a third-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft to take Webb, he converted back to cornerback.
In 2015 — his seventh year as a pro — Webb made seven starts at left cornerback opposite right cornerback Jimmy Smith. He also slid to nickel back when Wright made five starts at left cornerback.
Safety has become the position du jour for cornerbacks seeking to extend their careers. Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Charles Woodson transitioned from cornerback to safety and enjoyed varying degrees of success.
DeAngelo Hall switched to safety last November for the Washington Redskins, and former Raven Corey Graham moved to safety last season in Buffalo. Bills coach Rex Ryan, a former Ravens defensive coordinator, acknowledged the difficulty of making the position change.
"Everything's different," Ryan said during a conference call with Baltimore media this week. "Angles are different, the way you study tape is different. So it's a challenge certainly for anybody making that move."
The preseason was Webb's first working primarily out of the free safety position. Physically, he is responsible for a larger expanse of the field compared to shadowing a single receiver as a cornerback. There's also the mental adjustment of being the defensive captain of the secondary.
"Yeah, I've got to know the entire defense," he said. "As a corner, you're just looking for the safety, and he tells you what you've got. Now they look at me when somebody gets to moving, and I've got to tell them where they're going to next."
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he has enjoyed watching Webb grow in his new role.
"I think he's more and more comfortable every day back there," Pees said. "It gives a little bit of a situation where you can almost play him as a third corner if you have to, because he has played it so much. He played nickel. With the addition of [strong safety] Eric [Weddle] back there ... and Kendrick Lewis – those three guys have really kind of meshed I think. I feel good about the safety position."
Weddle, a 10-year veteran who signed as a free agent March 16, quipped that Webb has asked "a lot of questions."
"He is extremely humble," Weddle said. "He brings a lot of energy, a lot of laughter to our meetings. He brings the level of energy up. When he is out there, he is talented. He is fast. He is healthy. He had a couple seasons of dealing with injuries, but he looks fantastic. He is starting to see the field more as a safety. So many years as a corner, you are locked in on a guy and the first few weeks, he was seeing too much. Now he is letting it come to him. We expect a big season from him and [for him] to make a lot of plays on the ball."
Smith said Webb's presence gives the cornerbacks some room to be aggressive with opposing wide receivers.
"He brings experience, he brings knowledge to the game," Smith said. "The transition is only going to help his intelligence. Being at safety, you see a lot more than you see at corner. So I feel like him making that transition is going to be easier for him."
"Ed is Ed," Webb said. "I never want to be compared to Ed Reed. I'm not Ed Reed. I'm nowhere near Ed Reed. He's a legend. He was my favorite player. But I'm Lardarius Webb. I get to come back and play safety and do what I always wanted to do. I'm not trying to be Ed. That's kind of impossible. I just want to be the best Lardarius Webb."