Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t expect safety Geno Stone to play a defensive snap on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. But when starter Marcus Williams suffered a dislocated wrist early in the game, the 2020 seventh-round draft pick was ready.
Stone played 35 defensive snaps in the Ravens’ narrow 19-17 victory, helping the secondary limit Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to just 4 air yards per attempt and his lowest QBR (30.8) of the season.
Although Williams’ injury is not season-ending, the ballhawking veteran was placed on injured reserve, meaning Stone and rookie Kyle Hamilton will be relied upon to fill the void for the time being.
“[Williams] is one of the better players in our league and not having him is a disadvantage,” Hamilton said. “But me, Geno, [practice squad safety] Ar’Darius [Washington] and everybody in the room is gonna do our best to do good for the team.”
It’s hard to replace Williams, the former New Orleans Saints star who leads the team with three interceptions and five passes defended after signing a five-year, $70 million contract in the offseason. Harbaugh isn’t expecting guys like Stone and Hamilton to play like Williams; instead, he wants them to continue to stick to their style.
“Geno is Geno; Kyle is Kyle; Marcus is Marcus,” said Harbaugh. “They have their strengths, and we’ll try to put them in a position to make the most of their strengths if we can.”
Harbaugh said replacing Williams will be a group effort, adding: “We move a lot of guys in and out of that safety/nickel spot, so we’ll be moving guys around in there.”
Stone called the safeties an interchangeable group that has pride in the ability to play at different spots on the field. “That’s what we need,” he said. “When someone goes down, someone can step into that role.”
Stone has waited for an opportunity to prove himself. After the Ravens selected him late in the 2020 draft, he was waived in October that season before being placed on the practice squad two days later. He was signed to the Ravens’ 53-man roster in November, placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list in December, waived less than a month later and claimed by the Houston Texans.
It was a whirlwind of transactions for the rookie, but Stone never stopped believing he could play in the league.
He re-signed with the Ravens last March and ended up playing 17 games, making one start while contributing to Baltimore’s special teams, which ranked No. 1 in overall efficiency in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
“I was always staying humble and never gave up on myself,” he said. “I never [doubted] myself. I always have confidence in my abilities.”
Stone has had limited opportunities to showcase his skills but has taken advantage of them. He had two interceptions in last year’s preseason matchup against the Saints, and during the regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Stone intercepted a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Last year against the Green Bay Packers, Stone started in place of Chuck Clark when the veteran was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Stone said it was a moment that makes him feel capable of filling in for Williams.
“Anytime I step onto the field, I feel like I have the ability to go out there and show I can be a starter in this league,” he said.
Stone has impressed the coaches and teammates with his communication and preparation. Harbaugh said “he always knows the game plan, he always knows the checks, he always practices well, and he’s always prepared. That’s one of his best strengths.”
Linebacker Patrick Queen called Stone a “feisty little guy” who will communicate and go after the football.
“We call him ‘Chico,’” Queen said. “I just know when Chico’s on the field, I know he’s going to bring the hat. I know he’s going to communicate. I know he’s going to get to the ball every single time that he comes with that hat. So I can’t wait to see him go out there and ball out.”
Stone said he sits next to Clark during team meetings and leans on him for guidance since the sixth-year veteran is also a late-round pick who needed to prove himself. “I try to learn as much as I can from him. He wears the green dot for a reason,” Stone said, referencing the player who makes the defensive calls on the field.
For Hamilton, who is known for using his versatility and lining up in the slot against bigger receivers, he deferred to the coaches when asked if his role would change because of Williams’ absence. No matter what, he said he’s “going to be the same me every day.”
Hamilton has 10 tackles and a forced fumble through five games. After playing 14 snaps against the Bengals, his fewest of the season, the former Notre Dame standout said he understands it’s about circumstance.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it bothers me. Obviously, I want to be out there,” Hamilton said. “[But] nobody wants somebody sitting on the sidelines, pouting about not being in. If I need to be on [special] teams or come in on certain third down [situations], that’s what I’m going to do.”
Hamilton said the Ravens’ secondary is “one of the most prepared in the league,” as cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, Clark and Williams set the tone.
“It’s a very professional group of guys,” Hamilton said. “No matter whose number is called, I think we will all be prepared.”
Baltimore Ravens Insider
Baltimore Sun reporter Jonas Shaffer contributed to this story.
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Line: Ravens by 6