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Lardarius Webb says he's had some 'down years,' but is ready to be challenged

Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb knows there will be nowhere to hide come September, when the games matter and opposing quarterbacks will look to exploit perceived vulnerabilities. So, he wasn't about to hide Thursday, not from questions that he knew would be asked.

Webb acknowledged he's had a couple of "down years." He agreed with the rationale of quarterbacks who might choose to challenge him instead of teammate Jimmy Smith. He made no excuses for initially failing the Ravens' conditioning test last week after he was not a regular participant at voluntary team activities this offseason.

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"Not being out there on the first day kind of looked bad for me, trying to be the leader in my secondary and the group, and I'm not out there to lead them," Webb said following the Ravens' training camp workout. "I'm on the sideline, because I can't pass the conditioning test. It was kind of disappointing, but I told them that I'm going to pass it, and I'll be out there with them, and I did just that."

In April 2012, Webb signed a five-year $50 million contract with the Ravens, a deal that solidified his status as one of the league's best young cornerbacks and one of the team's defensive leaders. Adversity has followed.

Webb played just six games in 2012 before he tore up his knee for the second time in four seasons. He returned in 2012 and started all 16 games, but his pre-injury form was elusive. Last year, he essentially missed all of training camp — and three regular-season games — with a nerve issue in his back, and did not look comfortable until very late in the season.

He agreed to restructure his contract in March when it looked like he might be a salary cap casualty, but Webb's 2015 season got off to a dubious start with the failed conditioning test. The 29-year-old said he tried to get bigger and stronger this offseason and the extra weight hurt him. He missed just one day of practice, passing the test on the next opportunity.

"That's what just kind of makes me — facing adversity, the things I've been through since I've been a Raven," said Webb, a 2009 third-round NFL draft pick who is entering his seventh season with the team. "I've been down with a couple of injuries, but the one thing about me, I always know how to get back up. It's not just about me. It's my teammates, it's my defense, it's the guys around me that help me get up."

Over the past couple of months, the Ravens worked on solidifying the secondary, their biggest problem area last year. The team signed Smith to a contract extension and added veteran cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Cassius Vaughn.

But a case can be made that the biggest key to an improved secondary will be Webb's play.

The Ravens need his leadership and experience, his versatility to play on the outside and in the slot, his good ball skills and his sure tackling. They might even need his punt return ability with Jacoby Jones gone. Above all, they need Webb to be healthy.

"He's moving around well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's competing — quickness, ball skills, all the things that make Webby the corner he is. He looks good out here. I'm looking forward to just keep ramping up the intensity to the first preseason game — just like everybody else — and get ready to go. But he looks fine."

Webb's training camp performance thus far is probably best described as uneven, summed up by one back-to-back sequence in this past Saturday's workout. Webb had good position and nearly intercepted a pass intended for undrafted rookie wide receiver DeAndre Carter. On the very next play, Carter sprinted past Webb for a long completion.

Still, Webb's teammates said they see a quicker and more confident player than they did last year.

"I remember last offseason ... you could tell he wasn't quite back to himself. This year, he seems like he's back," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's confident, he's healthy and I'm excited for him, because he's a really good player. ... He's got to be out there and feeling confident about what he's doing. I think he's working back toward that."

Ravens second-year cornerback Tramain Jacobs said Webb sets the tempo and shows teammates "how it's supposed to be around here.

"We just follow his lead," Jacobs said.

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Webb, though, understands that the best way to lead is to be out on the field every Sunday and play well opposite Smith. Webb called the cornerback duo "the key to this defense," maintaining that if they are playing well on the outside, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have more options to move other people around and get after the quarterback.

"Just to be able to be here at the start of training camp with the guys, we're all getting used to each other," he said. "You never want to be hurt. There's nothing you can really do. Injuries happen. I'm just so happy to be able to be healthy, to be on the field, to be able to be me."

Webb knows that teams are going to want to test how healthy he is. Smith was playing as well as any cornerback in the league last year before he went down with a season-ending foot injury. With the 6-foot-2, 206-pound Smith on one side, Webb expects to see his share of footballs early in the season.

"I just had a couple down years, so if they're smart, they should come to me first and try me first. Then they'll go back over," Webb said. "I'll be ready. I'll definitely be ready this year for anything that they have to come at me."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this article.

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