Tag Archive | "anthony levine"

zadarius

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens defense prepared to play without Dumervil, Powers

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Aiming to win their season-opening game for the first time since 2012, the Ravens are preparing to be without two members of their nickel defense against the Buffalo Bills.

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil has already ruled himself out for Week 1 while slot cornerback Jerraud Powers is also not expected to play on Sunday. Those developments could leave the Baltimore defense vulnerable, especially at the pass rush after Dumervil contributed 32 1/2 sacks in his last three seasons with the Ravens.

His absence opens the door for young outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith, Kamalei Correa, and Matt Judon to receive more snaps opposite veteran Terrell Suggs in passing situations. Judon, a fifth-round rookie from Grand Valley State, was particularly impressive in the preseason, leading the team with three sacks and 17 tackles.

“I feel good about it,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about the young trio. “Would we like to have Elvis? Sure, because Elvis is a special guy, but we also have some other special guys out there, and I think it’s an opportunity for these young guys to step up, get the adrenaline flowing in the first game of their career, and get after it. They’ve shown some things in preseason that I think we’ll have the ability to do that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to show that on Sunday.”

Powers wasn’t a lock to serve as the nickel back before injuring his ankle in the second preseason game against Indianapolis, but the Ravens are looking at the combination of Anthony Levine, Will Davis, and rookie Tavon Young to fill the slot corner role. Baltimore also used the dime package quite a bit in training camp, a new wrinkle to watch for early in the regular season.

With Buffalo ranking first in the NFL in rushing offense last season, the Ravens may not deviate too much from their base defense in Week 1, but there was a point of emphasis this summer for the unit to vary its looks and personnel in pass coverage.

“We have some guys that I think are very capable of doing that,” Pees said. “Whether we play one guy at one time or whether we substitute and play different guys at different times, we might have different packages. You never know.”

In addition to Dumervil and Powers, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon was again absent from Thursday’s practice with every other member of the 53-man roster participating fully.

Meanwhile, the Bills were hit hard by the injury bug this summer, but there are no ailments of significant consequence on their current 53-man roster.

The Ravens jersey number swapping continued in full force on Thursday, particularly in the secondary with four players changing digits. Starting cornerback Shareece Wright is now wearing No. 24, Will Davis has switched to No. 31, rookie Maurice Canady has taken No. 39, and Powers will don No. 26.

Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett has also changed from No. 7 to No. 15, the number he wore at previous NFL stops and at the University of Arkansas.

Though they’re all currently on injured reserve, safety Matt Elam now has No. 33, cornerback Kyle Arrington was assigned No. 35, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro is now listed as No. 12.

At the very least, the equipment staff is staying busy just days before the season opener.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), CB Jerraud Powers (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Dennis Pitta (finger), G John Urschel (shoulder), TE Maxx Williams (knee), CB Shareece Wright (foot)

BUFFALO
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Colt Anderson (foot), CB Kevon Seymour (hamstring), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Ryan Groy (ribs)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Jonathan Williams (ribs)

Comments Off on Ravens defense prepared to play without Dumervil, Powers

levine

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Detroit

Posted on 28 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down the preseason with a 30-9 win over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Solid in his preseason debut, Joe Flacco got rid of the ball quickly, which did disrupt the timing on a few throws. Such a strategy was hardly surprising in his first game back from a major knee injury, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this going into the season.

2. In 10 plays, Terrell Suggs registered two tackles and the Baltimore defense just had a different look and feel with him on the field. I’m not sure if that says more about the 33-year-old linebacker or the rest of the defensive personnel at this point.

3. He may not be ready for an every-down role, but rookie Matt Judon reinforced why he’s deserving of being a situational pass rusher in sub packages. He did impressive work against starting right tackle Riley Reiff and collected a sack, five tackles, and a pass defense.

4. Considered a threat to win the starting job entering the summer, Buck Allen was the last of the Ravens’ top four running backs to receive action and ran for just 15 yards on eight carries. Averaging only 1.9 yards per carry this preseason, he hasn’t impressed running between the tackles.

5. Injuries at safety gave Terrence Brooks the chance to go the distance on Saturday, but he dropped an easy interception and missed a couple tackles leading to big gains. He still hasn’t been able to put it all together despite looking the part on paper.

6. We’re now three games into the preseason and there are no signs that rookie Ronnie Stanley can’t handle protecting Flacco’s blindside after he more than held his own against Pro Bowl defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. It wasn’t a sexy pick, but Stanley is already looking like a gem.

7. A year ago at this time, Carl Davis looked like the early star of the 2015 draft class, but he continues to have a quiet preseason and failed to register a statistic in 18 snaps. His performance is especially concerning after he hit the rookie wall last year.

8. With the season-ending injury to Benjamin Watson, the coaching staff has to be watching Darren Waller and wishing he hadn’t drawn himself a four-game suspension. Other than a drop that led to an interception in the preseason opener, he’s flashed appealing upside at his new position.

9. Remembering his special-teams prowess, I never thought Anthony Levine was in real danger of not making the roster, but he added an interception and a sack on Saturday to go along with his late-game heroics in Indianapolis. Seeing him work as a dime back will be interesting.

10. The Ravens were wise not to risk playing Lardarius Webb due to back tightness since he’s had his healthiest summer in a few years. If he’s right physically, his tackling ability cannot be overlooked at the safety position and the Ravens can move him around a bit.

11. You couldn’t ask for more from Jeremy Butler in his quest to earn a roster spot, but it was interesting to note that he only participated in two plays on special teams. If he’s going to be active on game days, he’ll need to be a part of those units.

12. It was hardly surprising, but seeing Haloti Ngata recognized in the second half of Saturday’s game was still a special moment. Despite an unceremonious departure after nine years in Baltimore, the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and future Ring of Honor member deserved a big ovation.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Detroit

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 11.28.24 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Indianapolis

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens continuing the preseason with a 19-18 win over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens didn’t give up any first-half touchdowns, but the starting defense struggling again against the opposing first unit was disappointing as Andrew Luck completed all eight of his passes. The group tightened up in the red zone, but surrendered three long drives and missed too many tackles.

2. The second of those long drives was halted thanks to a forced fumble by Albert McClellan, who continues to make a good case to be Baltimore’s strong-side outside linebacker in early-down situations. He set the edge well and finished with three tackles.

3. John Harbaugh was displeased with 11 penalties for 91 yards, including three defensive pre-snap penalties in the first half that resulted in first downs. When you have a shortage of play-makers, it’s even more critical to play smart and disciplined football, something the Ravens failed to do last year.

4. After a terrible first quarter, the offense came alive with Kamar Aiken drawing a 41-yard pass interference flag and catching a 14-yard touchdown on a beautiful crossing route. I’m interested to see what Aiken’s role looks like with Steve Smith’s return, but he deserves his share of targets.

5. The Ravens re-signed Shareece Wright this offseason to be a starting cornerback and he was solid down the stretch of a lost 2015 season, but he remains shaky in coverage — even against the Colts’ second offense — and is the logical target for opponents to test in this secondary.

6. He has plenty of stickers on his suitcase as a journeyman, but Josh Johnson has performed better than anyone expected and has outplayed Ryan Mallett for much of the summer. Harbaugh acknowledged it now being a competition for the backup job, but I’d still be surprised if Mallett is unseated.

7. It was interesting to see Will Davis play quite a bit at slot cornerback in the nickel, especially after Jerraud Powers struggled for the second straight week. Normally an outside corner, Davis made some plays inside and finished the game with five tackles and a sack.

8. Despite being a versatile backup, center Ryan Jensen had arguably the most embarrassing play of the evening when he was completely pancaked back into running back Kenneth Dixon on a third-and-goal play from the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Not a good look.

9. Rookie edge rusher Matt Judon impressed for the second straight week, collecting another sack and showing a promising combination of strength and quickness. The Grand Valley State product is still raw, but you can see why the Ravens were so happy to land him in the fifth round.

10. Known for his deep-threat ability at Cincinnati, Chris Moore ran crisp routes and showed strong hands in catching three passes for 20 yards after missing the preseason opener with a foot injury. With Breshad Perriman’s Week 1 status remaining in doubt, Moore becomes more interesting in this offense.

11. Credit the NFL last year for adopting the college rule allowing the defense to run back a conversion try for two as Anthony Levine did to win the game. It’s a rare play that might occur only once or twice a year around the league, but what excitement it brings.

12. Sitting Joe Flacco again was probably the right move, but the third preseason game now carries more importance than normal for the Ravens. With so many starters playing so little this summer, it’s hard to get a feel for just how good this team will be in 2016.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Indianapolis

hill

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

2015 Ravens training camp preview: Safeties

Posted on 28 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on Wednesday and the first full-squad workout takes place the following on July 30, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore safeties:

SAFETIES (7)
LOCK: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
BUBBLE: Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick, Nick Perry
LONG SHOT: None

Synopsis: Much attention was paid to the rash of injuries at cornerback last year, but the Ravens really struggled at the safety position, using a number of players with underwhelming results. Ozzie Newsome addressed the position with the offseason signing of veteran Kendrick Lewis, who is considered good in deep coverage — an area that was particularly problematic in 2014 — but isn’t a dynamic player. Will Hill emerged as a starter in the second half of 2014 and brings intriguing upside if he can continue to stay away from off-field trouble. Beyond that, this group is filled with a plethora of questions from disappointing 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam to Terrence Brooks, who begins training camp on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from last December’s knee injury.

One to watch: The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Hill brings an impressive combination of size and speed to the position and is projected to be the starting strong safety. It will be interesting to see how much improvement Hill can make after he didn’t sign with the Ravens until training camp last year and served a six-game suspension to begin the 2014 season. Even with other high draft picks currently on the roster, the former rookie free agent from the University of Florida appears to have the most potential to be a stabilizing force at the safety position.

One on notice: The lack of depth at the position leads me to believe Elam isn’t in real danger of losing his roster spot, but the Ravens have made it abundantly clear that they need to see more from him after a very disappointing 2014 campaign. In fairness, he was asked to play a lot of nickel due to the injuries at the cornerback position last year, but that doesn’t forgive his tackling issues as he led the team with 16 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. There’s still time for Elam to turn around his young career, but this figures to be a critical season for him to do that.

Sleeper: Nick Perry had to wait his turn behind other safeties at Alabama, but he performed well in the Crimson Tide secondary as a senior, showing good ability as a tackler and some solid coverage ability. He doesn’t figure to be ready to be a factor defensively, but a strong preseason and ability on special teams could put him in decent position to take away a roster spot from an incumbent such as Anthony Levine or Brynden Trawick. His 4.62-second 40-yard dash is good enough and his intelligence on the football field was praised at Alabama, making him someone to watch this summer.

Comments Off on 2015 Ravens training camp preview: Safeties

Tags: , , ,

Ravens reportedly re-sign cornerback Levine to two-year deal

Posted on 11 March 2015 by Luke Jones

After electing not to tender restricted free agent Anthony Levine ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, the Ravens have reportedly re-signed the cornerback and special-teams standout.

The sides received an agreement on a two-year deal, according to The Sun. After serving strictly in a special-teams capacity in his first two seasons with the Ravens, Levine was thrown into the secondary mix after a plethora of injuries at the cornerback position last season.

The 27-year-old appeared in all 16 games including three starts and finished the season as Baltimore’s No. 3 cornerback behind Lardarius Webb and Rashaan Melvin. He collected 29 tackles and four pass breakups while also finishing third on the team with six special-teams tackles.

The deal is reportedly worth $2.4 million, which includes a $400,000 signing bonus and incentives, which averages out to a lower annual salary than the lowest tender of $1.542 million for restricted free agents. This continues the Ravens’ pattern of awarding more affordable two-year deals to certain restricted free agents such as defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi, linebacker Albert McClellan, and long snapper Morgan Cox in recent years.

Baltimore gave a second-round tender ($2.356 million) to restricted free agent kicker Justin Tucker and the low tender to safety Will Hill earlier this week.

Comments Off on Ravens reportedly re-sign cornerback Levine to two-year deal

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens cornerback Jackson to miss rest of season with knee injury

Posted on 15 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An unfortunate year at the cornerback position only got worse Monday with the news that Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that Jackson suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury to his right knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Harbaugh ruled out safety Terrence Brooks (knee) for the rest of the season immediately after Sunday’s game as the rookie suffered a PCL injury on the opening kickoff against the Jaguars.

Jackson’s injury doesn’t sound as serious as Brooks’ ailment, but the timetable would not allow him to return quickly enough to justify carrying him on the roster for the final weeks of the season.

“He’s got a PCL [injury]. It’s like a five-week injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll be ruling him out the rest of the way.”

With Jackson becoming the fifth Ravens cornerback to be placed on injured reserve this season, four cornerbacks remain on the 53-man roster — Lardarius Webb, Rashaan Melvin, Anthony Levine, and the recently-signed veteran Antoine Cason. Jackson spent two months on IR-designated to return with a turf toe injury earlier this season and had just been activated in Week 14.

The Ravens have yet to officially place Jackson and Brooks on IR, but they will take another peek at what’s available on the free-agent market, something general manager Ozzie Newsome should be used to doing this season.

“I don’t think you ever feel like you have enough depth to get you through, so we’ll be looking at all of our options,” Harbaugh said. “It’s one thing to hope to have a guy, and it’s another thing to find a guy. We’re just looking at our options right now as we speak, and we’ll have some answers probably over the next two days on that.”

Melvin received the bulk of the opportunities when Jackson exited on Sunday, making five tackles and a pass breakup in his first NFL game. The sixth-year veteran Cason

Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are in even worse shape at the quarterback position as they’re set to welcome the Ravens to NRG Stadium in Week 16.

Head coach Bill O’Brien announced rookie quarterback Tom Savage will miss this Sunday’s game with a knee injury after he replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick in their Sunday loss to Indianapolis after the veteran suffered a broken leg. Those injuries coupled with Ryan Mallett previously going down for the season with a shoulder injury mean the Texans will be turning to their fourth quarterback of the 2014 seson.

Who that will be remains to be seen as O’Brien will choose between Thad Lewis and Case Keenum, who was waived by the Texans at the end of the preseason and spent most of the year with the St. Louis Rams before being signed off their practice squad by Houston on Monday morning.

“We’ll try to anticipate as best we can how we think they’ll attack us — scheme-wise and philosophically how they’ll approach the game — and try to gear our game plan and our reps accordingly as best we can,” Harbaugh said. “Who plays quarterback is definitely a part of that. We’ll be looking at that, and we’ll have to prepare for both of those two [quarterbacks].”

Comments Off on Ravens cornerback Jackson to miss rest of season with knee injury

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Torrey Smith, two others sit out Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 10 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Hitting the practice field for the first time since their crucial win in Miami, the Ravens were only missing one starter from Wednesday’s practice as they turn their attention toward the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith (right knee), tight end Crockett Gillmore (back), and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) were not working during the portion of practice open to media. Smith and Taliaferro were not present as the Ravens practiced on the turf field in their field house, but Gillmore was observing from the sideline.

With Smith still recovering from a sprained knee suffered two weeks ago that limited him to just 15 snaps in the 28-13 win over the Dolphins, his status is up in the air as the Ravens face 2-11 Jacksonville at M&T Bank Stadium.

The good news was the presence of running back Justin Forsett (knee) and cornerback Anthony Levine (concussion) during Wednesday’s practice. Forsett only practiced one day last week leading into the Miami game while Levine left Sunday’s contest with a head injury in the first quarter. Levine was a limited participant on Wednesday, making it unclear if he’s yet been cleared after entering the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Newly-signed veteran cornerback Antoine Cason was present after signing with the Ravens on Tuesday. He will wear No. 23, a jersey number last worn by cornerback Chykie Brown earlier this season.

Wednesday brought much worse news for the Jaguars as starting running back Denard Robinson was ruled out for the rest of the season with sprained foot. Former Ravens wide receiver Tommy Streeter (abdominal) was a limited participant.

Below is Wednesday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gilmore (back), WR Torrey Smith (knee), RB Lorenzo Talliaferro (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Levine (concussion)

JACKSONVILLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Andre Branch (groin), LB Khairi Fortt (hamstring), RB Denard Robinson (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Toby Gerhart (ankle), WR Tommy Streeter (abdominal)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Blake Bortles (right shoulder), DE Chris Clemons (knee), S Josh Evans (finger), LB J.T. Thomas (ankle)

Comments Off on Torrey Smith, two others sit out Wednesday’s practice

Tags: , , , , ,

Cornerbacks Levine, Gorrer leave Sunday’s game with injuries

Posted on 07 December 2014 by Luke Jones

On a day when cornerback Asa Jackson returned following a two-month absence from a toe injury, the Ravens lost two more cornerbacks in their 28-13 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Anthony Levine left in the first quarter with a concussion while Danny Gorrer was carted off the field with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Neither backup cornerback returned as the Ravens finished the game with just two active cornerbacks who were healthy — Jackson and veteran Lardarius Webb.

The injuries forced defensive coordinator Dean Pees to use safety Matt Elam extensively at the nickel against the Dolphins.

Head coach John Harbaugh had no update on either player’s status after the game. Young cornerback Rashaan Melvin was deactivated prior to the game, and rookie free agent Tramain Jacobs was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Saturday.

The Ravens were also without starting wide receiver Torrey Smith for most of the game after his knee swelled up during pre-game warmups. Listed as probable on the final injury report after practicing fully on Friday, the fourth-year wideout limped through his pre-game routine and played sparingly, finishing without a catch.

“We worked him out pre-game and he looked pretty good,” Harbaugh told reporters in Miami after the game. “Then we came out for pre-game right before the game and his knee swelled up and it really tightened up on him. We had already activated him, and he really couldn’t go.”

With Smith essentially out of the picture, the Ravens primarily turned to Kamar Aiken, who turned in a career day with six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Marlon Brown added three catches for 30 yards in his return from last week’s concussion.

Comments Off on Cornerbacks Levine, Gorrer leave Sunday’s game with injuries

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens pass defense on pace to be worst in franchise history

Posted on 30 November 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens entering the final quarter of the regular season following Sunday’s disappointing 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the pass defense will need to raise its level of play substantially to avoid a dubious distinction.

Giving up 376 yards in the air as San Diego’s Philip Rivers picked them apart, the 7-5 Ravens are now on pace to surrender 4,383 yards through the air in 2014, which would shatter the franchise-worst mark of 3,969 set in the inaugural 1996 season. That year, Baltimore finished 4-12 with a pass defense that finished last in the NFL.

The Ravens woke up Monday morning ranked 31st in the league in pass defense with only the Atlanta Falcons surrendering more yards through the air.

Where are Isaac Booth, Donny Brady, and Antonio Langham when you need them?

Of course, we’re in the midst of a pass-happy era in which offense reigns supreme — making the numbers difficult to compare to those of 18 years ago — but the Ravens haven’t had any answers in a secondary that was already facing questions long before significant injuries suffered by starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Smith is done for the year with a Lisfranc injury, and Webb continues to look like a shell of his former self after a back injury that took away his entire training camp and forced him out of three of the first four games of the regular season.

The Ravens have been unfortunate, but they were also poorly prepared to handle any injuries on the back end of the defense.

After former No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham departed via free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome did not add any quality depth behind his starters in the offseason, instead counting on Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown to pick up the slack. Instead Jackson suffered a serious turf toe injury in Week 5 — he could return as soon as next Sunday’s game in Miami — and Brown struggled so mightily that Baltimore waived him in early November.

As a result, defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been forced to turn to journeyman Danny Gorrer and former safety Anthony Levine to go along with a struggling Webb. Many are inclined to blame coaching whenever a unit struggles, but you can only be so creative with schemes — the Ravens tried just about everything on Sunday — to overcome such personnel deficiencies.

The safety position has been just as problematic with 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam being a major disappointment in his second season. Pees has used a carousel of names — Darian Stewart, Jeromy Miles, Brynden Trawick, and rookie Terrence Brooks at various times — with only Will Hill looking to be a solid option at this stage of the season.

As for the record books, the Ravens will receive a respite from playing Pro Bowl quarterbacks as they’re slated to face Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, and either Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel — maybe both? — in the season finale against Cleveland. That said, Tannehill is in the midst of a good third season with the Dolphins and Fitzpatrick is coming off a six-touchdown performance in Week 13, so it won’t be a total cakewalk of opposing quarterbacks.

You can only hope Sunday was rock bottom for the pass defense as the Ravens will need an excellent final month to catch the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North or at least advance to the playoffs after last year’s absence.

Comments (2)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You’d be hard pressed to find too many Ravens fans who knew Anthony Levine’s name prior to Sunday’s 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Making his first career start for a revamped and injury-riddled secondary that was still licking its wounds from an embarrassing performance in Pittsburgh, the former safety seized the opportunity after previously playing just five defensive snaps in his entire NFL career. Levine finished with four tackles and two pass breakups while also earning Pro Football Focus’ highest single-game grade in pass coverage for any Ravens cornerback not named Jimmy Smith this season.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Levine said after Sunday’s win. “To call myself a starting something in the NFL — whether it was safety, corner — I was happy to say that I was a starting corner today for the Baltimore Ravens.”

Of course, Levine’s success came against a rookie quarterback and a Tennessee passing game lacking bite and it remains to be seen if he’ll survive against more potent aerial attacks, but it’s difficult not to feel good for a third-year player who spent parts of three seasons on practice squads — originally with Green Bay and then Baltimore — before even getting a chance as a special-teams contributor. The Tennessee State product played all 16 games for the Ravens last season without receiving a single defensive snap, finishing second on the team in special-teams tackles and serving as the protector on the punt team.

After watching Levine serve as a core member of his units for the last two years, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg takes pride in seeing him become the latest special-teams player to make the transition to starter. Several former Ravens have made similar jumps in recent years, including linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe as well as cornerback Corey Graham.

“We hope that our players that are just playing special teams develop into players on their sides of the ball as well,” Rosburg said. “It’s my belief — perhaps it’s a slanted belief — that if you can be a good special-teams player, you should be a good player on offense and defense because it takes a lot of skill to play on special teams. It’s not a surprise to me that he’s developed skills that he can go out there and play for the Ravens in the secondary.”

To be fair, Levine’s opportunity to start wasn’t as much about improvement as it was about the Ravens’ injuries and attrition as the coaching staff didn’t anticipate throwing him into the fire this quickly until the Smith injury made the secondary’s issues even worse. After Levine practiced at safety in his first two years with the Ravens, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo had moved him to cornerback in training camp when injuries to Lardarius Webb, Smith, and Asa Jackson left the secondary shorthanded.

It was a position at which Levine had worked some before, and he’s downplayed the change because of how comfortable he’s always felt backpedaling, a skill needed at both safety and corner. The 27-year-old really began turning heads a couple weeks ago while practicing with the scout team against the starting offense as Pees and Spagnuolo noticed how effectively he was competing against the likes of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith in coverage.

Meanwhile, cornerbacks higher on the depth chart such as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown continued to struggle, culminating with Ben Roethlisberger’s six-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. Two days later, those two were cut and Levine received a text message from Spagnuolo saying to be ready to practice leading up to the Tennessee game.

“He just has run with it. He’s a confident guy that competes,” said Spagnuolo, who told Levine he was starting the morning of the Titans game. “He loves to practice and is passionate about the game. There’s not a guy out there he doesn’t think he can cover. That’s a good quality for a corner.”

Sharing time with newly-acquired veteran Danny Gorrer, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Levine was strong in run support and did a fine job keeping receivers in front of him, allowing only one reception for 13 yards on three passes thrown his way in coverage. Despite the first-quarter struggles of the defense, Levine made his presence felt on the opening drive when he dropped running back Bishop Sankey on a stretch play for only a 1-yard gain.

The post-game locker room featured several teammates praising Levine as a hard worker who had done everything he could for the opportunity. While most media and fans expected Gorrer to be the one to start at cornerback in the buildup to the Tennessee game, Webb complimented Levine’s performance in practice without being prompted last week, a hint that the special-teams player just might be the next man up.

“We all know that Levine can make plays in practice against the top receivers, Steve and Torrey,” Webb said following the game. “That’s how he is in practice, he’s always going 110 percent on special teams — all phases of special teams — and playing defense. You have to look up to that. He did a great job doing everything. He’s a corner, he’s a playmaker.”

Those labels are different than what Levine’s used to hearing after years as a practice-squad member, special-teams contributor, and scout-team player who remained anonymous with most of the outside football world.

Though the Ravens will continue to face questions in their secondary week after week, Levine was able to provide an answer for at least one Sunday. And he earned another shot after the bye against a more imposing opponent in the New Orleans Saints to prove that he’s not just a special-teams player playing out of position.

“Sometimes you have to be careful of pigeonholing guys like that,” Pees said. “Give them an opportunity, [and] then it’s up to them to run with it. I just think that’s a credit to them when they get the opportunity to seize it.”

Comments Off on Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role