OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Replacing a legend isn’t easy, but new Ravens safety Michael Huff is looking to carve out his own niche in the tradition of great Baltimore defense.
The 30-year-old met with the local media for the first time Thursday after passing his physical and officially signing a three-year, $6 million contract and didn’t shy away from recognizing the crater left behind by future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal to join the Houston Texans last week. In fact, Huff has kept in contact with Reed via text messages in a symbolic passing of the torch.
Huff knows he can’t truly replace the nine-time Pro Bowl safety, but the 2005 Jim Thorpe Award winner and seventh overall pick of the 2006 draft is eager to maintain the level of strong play found in the Ravens secondary for over a decade. And it may provide the opportunity for Huff to break free from the black cloud of the Raiders organization after never experience a winning season in seven campaigns in the AFC West.
“It means a lot,” Huff said. “He’s one of the greatest — if not the greatest — free safety to ever play the game. I talked to him last night. I told him I’d carry on his legacy and carry on the tradition of great safeties in Baltimore. I’m definitely going to go out there and hold up my end.”
He may not have fulfilled the great promised he once showed as a star for the Longhorns, but Huff is happy to be in Baltimore seven years after general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens showed interest in him leading up to the 2006 draft.
Huff is expected to start at free safety, but the University of Texas product views himself as a Swiss army knife in the secondary, evident last season when he made 14 starts at cornerback due to a high number of injuries in the Oakland secondary. It’s a valuable asset to have on game day when a team is limited to just 46 active players and is only an injury or two away from having a major predicament at any given position on the field.
“I’m going to go out there and play free safety, play strong safety, play corner if they need me to, to play nickel if they need me to,” Huff said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to help the defense and help us win.”
Joining a group of safeties with only one other veteran — 29-year-old James Ihedigbo — Huff said Thursday that he won’t shy away from mentoring younger players such as Christian Thompson, Omar Brown, Emanuel Cook, and Anthony Levine. Linked by their respective collegiate careers at Texas, Huff and cornerback Chykie Brown train together during the offseason.
It follows a predictable offseason script as Huff joins defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears and linebacker Elvis Dumervil as free-agent additions who will also bring positive veteran presences to a Ravens locker room that lost several leaders following the Super Bowl XLVII win.
“He fits us really well, both football-wise and technique-wise, the type of person he is, the type of family man he is,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s going to enable us to keep doing the things on defense that we have been doing and even build on those things.”
Moving beyond the iconic status of Reed after 11 years of the ball-hawking safety roaming the secondary for the Ravens, Huff might prove to be an upgrade over Reed as the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year turns 35 at the beginning of the 2013 season. Reed’s tackling issues aren’t a secret after a nerve impingement has taken its toll on his neck and shoulder and the 2002 first-round pick admitted himself that his range had declined in recent years.
The cheaper price tag for a younger player also didn’t hurt in easing the pain of Reed’s decision to join the Texans.
“I think the thing that stands out is you look at a guy in the back end who has a lot of range,” secondary coach Teryl Austin said. “He is a good tackler coming out of the back end, and he’s durable. He has played a lot.”
Having missed only four games in his professional career, Huff adds a dependable piece to the back end of a defense that lost Reed and strong safety Bernard Pollard earlier this month.
Huff won’t be confused with having the big-play ability that Reed displayed in his time with the Ravens, but his steady and safe style might just be what the defense needs after the pass rush was boosted with the signing of the three-time Pro Bowl selection Dumervil. The new safety is far more interested in continuing a winning tradition — one he never experienced in the abyss of Oakland — than personal stats or another big contract.
“It’s defense and just winning,” Huff said. “At this point in my career, it’s not chasing money. It’s not chasing things like that. It’s chasing that Super Bowl ring. I don’t think there’s any better place than to come here. Baltimore is that place. If you want to come here and win a Super Bowl, then this is where you want to be.”