Opportunity awaits players filling in for injured Ravens cornerbacks

Chykie Brown has heard the chatter both inside and outside the Ravens' facility. He knows what people are saying about the Ravens' banged-up secondary and how it could lead to the demise of the team.

He also understands that he and whoever is left from the Ravens' cornerback group has a big opportunity Saturday night to ease some of the angst.


"If people put us on that pedestal, we have to step up and answer the challenge," said Brown, the Ravens' fourth-year player. "I'm always up for a challenge. It's just motivation that they're looking for us to step up and be those guys. We've got to answer the call."

When the Ravens face the Washington Redskins and their explosive wide receiver tandem of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium, their lack of cornerback depth will come into focus. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh traditionally plays his front-line players into the third quarter of the third preseason game, but his top three cornerbacks won't even be in uniform.


Lardarius Webb hasn't practiced in four weeks because of a lower back injury that was initially believed to be minor. Jimmy Smith has been sidelined since a hard fall to the turf last week against the Dallas Cowboys left him with a chest contusion and internal bleeding. Asa Jackson has been out the past two weeks with an ankle injury.

The Ravens also are without Aaron Ross who didn't make it to training camp. The veteran corner tore his Achilles while taking the conditioning test the day before the team's first full-team practice.

"Somebody asked today about who we'd have out there the first game," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said earlier this week. "I said, 'Whoever we have healthy.'"

Only six corners currently fit that criteria and that group has five career NFL starts combined. Brown, who has been picked on at times this summer by wide receivers and referees, has temporarily moved into the top cornerback role. Signed in late June, Dominique Franks should start on the other side despite playing only 13 defensive snaps last season for the Atlanta Falcons.

The rest of the group includes three undrafted rookie free agents – Tramain Jacobs, Deji Olatoye and Sammy Seamster – and Marrio Norman, who the Ravens plucked out of the Arena League about 3½ weeks ago.

"That's going to be an opportunity for those guys to go against the best for a long period of time," Harbaugh said. "Those guys are among the best receivers in football. Great quarterback [in Robert Griffin III]. The whole offense is very well stacked with talent. So, it's going to give us a good chance to evaluate where we're at and give those guys an opportunity to prove they can play with the best."

Harbaugh, who doesn't traditionally play most of his starters in the fourth preseason game, is focused on the silver lining of the situation. All of the injuries have given plenty of repetitions for players who normally wouldn't get them, at least not against the best players from the other side. That can only strengthen the Ravens' depth at cornerback when their top guys return.

When that will be, however, nobody seems to know. Smith said Thursday that he's "100 percent sure" that he, Webb and Jackson will all be back when they are needed, which presumably is on Sept. 7, when the Ravens open the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Until then, Brown and Franks will be asked to defend the opponent's top receivers and rookie safety Terrence Brooks could be on the field more and more as the team's nickel back.

"Those [injured] guys are going to be back," said Brown who has started one game in three seasons and played 39 defensive snaps last year. "It does put pressure on the next guy up but I like that pressure. It's an opportunity and I want to take off with it. If not here, then maybe somebody across the league is looking [and saying], 'OK, he's a third corner but he is playing a starting role.' That's what I'm trying to put out there, that I can play with the one's."

Brown played pretty well last week against Dallas though he did nearly get beat on a long touchdown pass by Terrance William. However, Brandon Weeden underthrew the ball and Brown did well to catch up to Williams and make a play on the ball.

Franks, who last started a game in 2011 for the Falcons, had an uneven night after replacing Smith early in the first quarter. He was beaten on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant, but there are few cornerbacks in the league who could have made a play on the touchdown.


Now, he'll likely get an opportunity to match up against either Jackson or Garcon.

"Definitely, this is a big challenge for me," Franks said. "If I can go out there and show that I can play against some of the best receivers in this league, this can really serve me well for the rest of the year."

After Brown and Franks, the other four healthy Ravens' corners have yet to play in an NFL regular-season game. The three undrafted free agents have had all their good and bad moments during training camp, but Jacobs, who went to Texas A&M, clearly looks to be the most NFL ready.

Perhaps, that's a product of all the days that he spent competing in practice against former Aggie teammates, Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, both first-round draft picks this past May.

"I'm still a rookie. I'm still learning the ropes but I do feel like I'm improving," Jacobs said recently. "I do feel like I'm getting better every day. That's basically what I'm working on, improving on one thing every day and getting better. Eventually, good things will happen."

Jacobs and the other rookies know that their time to make an impression on the coaching staff is running out. The Ravens have to make their first cuts, trimming their roster down from 90 to 75, by Tuesday. They then have to get down to the 53-man roster by Aug.30.

With the way their injury situation is, the Ravens probably can't afford to cut any corners until some guys start returning to practice. But Franks knows better than to take anything for granted.

"This is my time to prove it," he said. "The coaches have faith in me, giving me the chance to go out here with the No. 1 defense and go out there and prove what I can do. I can't wait."


Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.

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