Lardarius Webb is reinventing himself entering his eighth season with the Ravens by turning back the clock on his football career.
After playing cornerback for his first seven years, the 30-year-old was moved to safety last December as it became apparent that he could no longer cover the speedier receivers on the outside. But the transition hasn’t been as dramatic as it can be for other players moving to a new position late in their careers.
“I feel like I’ve always been a safety anyway,” said Webb, who hasn’t trained any differently for the position change this offseason but acknowledged needing to study the playbook as much as he did in his first couple years in Baltimore. “I was a safety in high school and in college. I really never played corner until I got to the league. It was a pride thing. I liked playing the position; it’s a competitive edge. I like being out there playing on-on-one and competing with some of the best wide receivers throughout the game.
“But I love the safety [position]. It’s a great transition, I’m loving it. I have more control of the defense.”
He also has plenty of experience to lean on in not only new teammate and three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle but in ex-teammate and mentor Ed Reed. From the moment he was drafted out of Nicholls State in the third round of the 2009 draft, Webb made it no secret that he idolized the future Hall of Fame safety, who is now an assistant defensive backs coach for the Buffalo Bills.
Webb quipped that he hasn’t wanted to tell Reed too much about the Ravens’ revamped secondary since the teams meet in the season opener on Sept. 11, but he remains in touch with the nine-time Pro Bowl safety and 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year, who has advised him to prepare as much as he can mentally before anything else related to moving to safety.
“I always talk to him and watch his old film,” Webb said. “He was a different type of player — one of the greats. He was just a smart player. Me, I just want to get the hang of it first. I don’t want to be jumping stuff I shouldn’t be jumping — things that he used to do to make great plays. I just want to learn the position.”
Moving Webb to safety doesn’t come without risk as his $9.5 million salary cap figure is second to only Joe Flacco among Ravens players in 2016. Many outsiders assumed Webb would either be asked to take another pay cut from his $5.5 million base salary for 2016 or be released with one of the highest cap figures at his position in the NFL.
He’s also dealt with a number of injuries in his career, ranging from two ACL tears to a back injury that sidelined him for the better part of two months in 2014.
Questions remain about how the Ravens will cover the bigger tight ends around the league with Webb listed at just 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds and Weddle only 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, two frames better fitting the mold of the free safety position. However, new secondary coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are expected to show plenty of disguised looks in the secondary with Webb also sliding down to play the nickel with Kendrick Lewis then entering the game next to Weddle.
Webb has also instructed Weddle not to hold back in correcting any of his mistakes at his new position or in leading a defense that finished last in the NFL with just six interceptions and 30th in turnovers (14) last season. Still a couple weeks away from mandatory minicamp, it’s apparent that the Ravens are pleased with their top free-agent acquisition and only think he will make Webb better.
“He’s going to be big for this team. He speaks up,” Webb said. “I told him, ‘We want Eric Weddle. Don’t hold back. Don’t be quiet. We want you. If you yelled when you were with the Chargers, I want you coming out here yelling. Just be yourself. Grow the beard back, because we want the beard. If that’s who you were, grow the beard.’
“He’s growing it back. He’s being himself and we’re loving it. It was a great move.”
The Ravens hope Webb’s transition will make it two great moves at a position that’s struggled mightily since Reed’s departure after Super Bowl XLVII.