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Webb injury makes cornerback no secondary concern for Ravens

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Webb injury makes cornerback no secondary concern for Ravens

Posted on 02 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens entered training camp with cornerback depth high on the list of concerns following the free-agent departure of Corey Graham and the lack of a significant offseason addition through free agency or the draft.

The anxiety has only grown with a lingering back injury for starter Lardarius Webb that is likely to keep him sidelined for most of the preseason, according to head coach John Harbaugh. Webb “probably” won’t play in the first two preseason games and could even miss the all-important third game of the summer despite tests revealing no structural damage to the sixth-year defensive back.

“He has some things going on in there that aren’t long-term things,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going to get into it and give you the exact diagnosis of it. It’s probably as much me as anything. This early part of camp –- I just don’t want to put him through this on his back. He’s had sports hernia surgery [earlier in the offseason], also. There’s still some scar tissue in there. I just would rather keep him out of this first part of training camp, and we’ll just see how it feels more toward the end of camp.”

As anyone could tell you, back injuries are tricky, and there’s no guarantee that Webb will be in the clear even when he returns to action. The Ravens are taking the prudent approach considering the regular-season opener against Cincinnati is still more than a month away, but that will only quell concerns so much in a day and age when the NFL is all about defending the passing game.

Entering the summer, the competition was already wide open for the No. 3 cornerback spot with young defensive backs Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson expected to be pushed by veterans Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks, who were both signed following June’s mandatory minicamp. Instead, Ross tore his Achilles tendon taking the conditioning test at the start of camp and Franks took several days to pass the test to even get on the field. The former Atlanta Falcons cornerback has done very little to distinguish himself while working with the second- and third-string defenses in practice.

Rookie free agents Tramain Jacobs, Deji Olatoye, and Sammy Seamster have all flashed ability and are intriguing candidates to potentially make the 53-man roster, but none can reasonably be counted on to handle a significant defensive role in Week 1.

The only certainty right now is 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith handling one of the starting spots.

“Somebody has to rise to the top,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “The cream has to come to the top and somebody has to take the job, and I don’t know right now who that is. I feel pretty good about Jimmy Smith on the one side, and then there’s a lot of competition over on the other side. Right now, I couldn’t tell you who that is. Those guys just have to keep competing.”

Through the early stages of camp, Jackson has played better than Brown, but neither has shown enough consistency to feel comfortable about penciling one into the nickel defense. When it comes to experience, Brown has the edge as he’s filled in as an outside corner in the nickel due to injuries while Jackson has yet to play a defensive snap as he enters his third season.

Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo prefer to slide Webb inside in the nickel package where his ability to play the run and blitz can be better utilized, and Brown is better suited to play outside, but the 2011 fifth-round pick consistently struggles to find the football in coverage. Meanwhile, Jackson is more of an inside corner with a height listed at 5-foot-10.

“That’s something that I went into this latest break trying to really work on and really working on my technique on the outside,” Jackson told AM 1570 WNST.net last week. “Being a smaller guy, it gets a little hairy out there sometimes, but I’ve put in a lot of good work this offseason. I’m excited to keep trying to improve and play on the outside.”

The Ravens have experimented with a variety of different looks including moving strong safety Matt Elam to the nickel spot, but it’s fair to wonder whether the defense’s No. 3 cornerback isn’t currently on the roster. General manager Ozzie Newsome has found contributors who have become available at the end of the preseason in the past, but there’s no guarantee a quality cornerback will shake free with the pass-happy nature of the league and the premium placed on coverage.

Newsome spoke highly of Brown and Jackson throughout the offseason, but the inability to add an impact cornerback this offseason is even more concerning with the absence of Webb.

“We may do some things that I may not normally do in a game just to put those guys out there and see what they can do,” Pees said. “This is the time to experiment and see if they can do it — not when the season starts.”

Of course, the Ravens are expressing confidence that Webb will be ready to go by the end of the summer, but they’ll need to find a comfort level with their No. 3 cornerback before they can even begin thinking about how to align the defense should Webb’s absence linger into the regular season.

It’s not a comfortable place to be with a group of unproven and unheralded cornerbacks competing for what has essentially become a starting position in the NFL. And that discomfort becomes a nightmare if the Ravens aren’t being completely transparent about Webb’s injured back.

For now, Harbaugh and his coaching staff can only hope one of the young cornerbacks answers the bell while Newsome keeps his eyes peeled for what might become available through trade or free agency.

“There is a lot of competition out here for that third spot,” Jackson said. “I think we’re all kind of raising each other’s level of play. Hopefully, we can keep doing that and then once the games get here, it’ll sort out how it will.”

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Veteran cornerback Ross tears Achilles tendon prior to first day of camp

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Veteran cornerback Ross tears Achilles tendon prior to first day of camp

Posted on 24 July 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens began their first full-squad workout of the summer having already lost a player for the 2014 season with the news of veteran cornerback Aaron Ross tearing his Achilles tendon.

Ross suffered the injury while taking his conditioning test while veteran cornerback Dominique Franks did not pass his, explaining his absence from the field during Thursday’s practice. The former was officially placed on injured reserve while Franks starts training camp on the non-football injury list until he passes his conditioning test.

Signed along with Ross following last month’s mandatory minicamp to boost depth at the cornerback position, Franks is expected to compete for the No. 3 cornerback spot behind starters Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith. Though not a good impression to make, Franks failing the test isn’t an uncommon occurrence as a number of veterans have failed the Ravens’ challenging conditioning test at the start of training camp over the years.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the injury to Ross after Thursday’s practice and left open the possibility of the Ravens adding another veteran cornerback.

“We have pretty good depth, [but] we’ll always be looking for better players,” Harbaugh said. “Whenever I get asked that question, I give the same answer. I don’t think we have an particular urgency. We have good players at corner. The guys are competing, [and] we like our guys. I expect the third corner to be one of the guys already here.”

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody was also absent after being placed on the active physically unable to perform list while recovering from offseason hip surgery. Coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the week there is no clear timetable for his return to the practice field, but he continues to make good progress in his recovery.

Running back Bernard Pierce (shoulder surgery) and offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf) were both present and working after Harbaugh declared both to be at full speed earlier this week. With Thursday’s news of starting running back Ray Rice receiving a two-game suspension to begin the season, Pierce figures to have the inside track to begin the year as the starting back in Gary Kubiak’s offense.

“I’m very confident in Bernard. I’ve always liked Bernard,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a heck of a player. He’s worked very hard. He’s 217 pounds, [and] he’s in the best shape of his life. He looked good out here the last couple of days; he looked really good today.”

The Ravens were practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts on Thursday morning and will conduct their first full-contact workout on Saturday.

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Ravens officially sign cornerbacks Ross, Franks, three others

Posted on 20 June 2014 by Luke Jones

A day after head coach John Harbaugh suggested additions would be made to the offseason roster, the Ravens officially signed cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks along with three others on Friday.

Baltimore also signed linebackers Austin Spitler and Nick DiMarco and wide receiver Mike Willie. Three rookie free agents were waived to make room on the 90-man roster as linebacker Xavius Boyd and defensive backs Dexter Moody and Avery Patterson will not be going to training camp as of now.

Ross and Franks made a favorable impression with Harbaugh while trying out during the Ravens’ mandatory minicamp over the last three days and will compete with Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson for the third and fourth cornerback jobs behind starters Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson.

Spitler is entering his fifth NFL season after spending his first four years with the Miami Dolphins. Primarily a special-teams contributor, the Ohio State product has appeared in 55 career games and recorded 28 special-teams tackles.

Also participating on a tryout basis this week, Willie spent most of the 2012 season on the practice squad of the San Diego Chargers. The Arizona State product did not play in the NFL last season and recorded 72 receptions for 897 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons with the Sun Devils.

DiMarco originally signed with the New York Jets as a rookie free agent following the draft and played his collegiate football at William Penn and earned first-team Midwest Collegiate Conference honors as a defensive end.

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Ravens showing interest in veteran cornerback options

Posted on 16 June 2014 by Luke Jones

Hoping to boost their cornerback depth before the start of the 2014 season, the Ravens are reportedly taking a looking at a couple veteran options this week.

Former New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross posted on his official Twitter account that he would be coming to Baltimore where he will receive a tryout. The 31-year-old played in just four games due to a back injury last year and has 11 interceptions in his seven-year career, which includes 52 starts.

Ravens secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo coached Ross in his first two NFL seasons in New York and is obviously familiar with his skills despite his increasing age.

According to The Sun, the Ravens will also try out former Carolina Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence, who is entering his 12th NFL season and has spent time with five teams in his career. The 33-year-old played in 14 games for Carolina’s sixth-ranked pass defense last year.

Veteran cornerbacks Marquice Cole and Dominique Franks will also reportedly try out at this week’s minicamp.

Following the free-agent departure of Corey Graham, the Ravens have expressed confidence in Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson, but the addition of a veteran would figure to benefit the battle for the No. 3 corner spot behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

The Ravens are also reportedly interested in former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers, but a number of teams have shown interest, according to The Sun.

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