Marcus Williams did not grow up watching Ed Reed highlights. The new Ravens safety acknowledged Thursday that he’d more closely studied another former Ravens safety as he rose to NFL stardom: Eric Weddle, a fellow Utah product.
But as Williams explained how he’d found his way to Baltimore, signing a five-year, $70 million deal in free agency, he made clear certain philosophical alignments with the franchise’s defensive greats. Over five standout years with the New Orleans Saints, Williams was one of the NFL’s best ball hawks. Yet he was always left wanting more. At his introductory news conference, he spoke calmly and confidently about his grand ambitions.
His mentality in coverage? “When the ball is in the air, I think it’s mine every time. Sometimes I may hit my own teammate, but that’s the cost of doing business. I may take the interception from them, but as long as the other person, other team doesn’t get it, then I’m happy about it.”
The validation of being avoided altogether? “You know, it’s tough to not be targeted. I guess it says something, but I’d also rather be a little bit more targeted so I can get more interceptions. But I guess it’s a little validating, but at the same time, maybe I’m just too far back — I don’t know.”
And as for his hallowed Ravens predecessors? “I really try to make my own path. So they’re all great players, but at some point, I want to be better than that. So that’s just for me.”
The Ravens will strive for defensive greatness again in 2022 after an underwhelming 2021. With injuries depleting their secondary and breakdowns leading to near-weekly headaches, the Ravens finished last in the NFL in passing yards per game allowed and third to last in pass defense efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.
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The return to health of cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey will help. So will the arrival of Williams, who has been targeted on just 5.1% of his coverage snaps since entering the NFL in 2017, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the third-lowest rate in the league.
“Great instincts, eyes, range, ball-hawking ability, a good support player down low,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. “He can come down effectively and make tackles. Just a guy that has an opportunity to make critical plays in critical situations. …
“We’ve seen the impact that those types of guys can have on the NFL and in the games now, especially with, I think, the impact of the passing game that we’ve seen, the rise of the passing game over the last 15 years or so. I just think Marcus is a guy that really fits us and makes us a better defense.”
Williams, who’s expected to start alongside veteran safety Chuck Clark, said the Ravens’ secondary talent includes “some of the best guys in the league.” But there were no proclamations on just how stifling the team’s pass defense could be. Not yet, anyway. “I feel like we’ll see what happens coming this season,” he said.
The Ravens made Williams a priority this offseason for a reason; DeCosta said safeties with his skill set are “few and far between.” The Ravens want Williams to elevate the Ravens’ defense in the same way he lifted the Saints’.
“The reality of it is, is Marcus is a player that’s going to be able to change the game, just like everybody’s been talking about,” pass game coordinator and secondary coach Chris Hewitt said. “Our job is, and my job is, to try to put him in the best position for him to go make plays. So as far as how I see him, we’ll find out all those things once we get on the grass and get out there and play.
“But I know what his ability is and what he’s going to be able to do for us as a team. So I’m going to put him in the best position so that he can make plays, whether that’s on the back end, blitzing, covering. All the things that it takes for you to become a great player in this league, we’re going to try to do that to suit him.”