Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb finds himself in a place all too familiar at this time of the year.
Dealing with a hamstring injury suffered more than two weeks ago, the 29-year-old has missed Baltimore’s first two preseason games and hasn’t participated in a preseason game since Aug. 22, 2013. And with Webb coming off a less-than-impressive 2014 campaign hindered in part by a back injury, defensive coordinator Dean Pees wants to see the veteran on the field this summer.
“It is not his fault. He’s trying to do what he can to rehab and get ready to go, but it is certainly a concern,” Pees said. “I’d be fooling you to tell you I didn’t think it was a concern. I want guys out there practicing so we can see where they are and know where they are. The conditioning thing — all those kind of things — yes, it’s a concern. I hope we still can get him out here in the next week or so, but at this point, I wish he was out there.”
This marks the third straight summer in which Webb has been limited for injury reasons. In 2013, he was returning from the second ACL injury of his career suffered the previous fall. Last year, Webb went down with a back injury on the first day of full-squad workouts and didn’t return until a few weeks into the regular season.
The summer had already started in humbling fashion for Webb when he failed the conditioning test upon reporting to Owings Mills. Acknowledging it wasn’t a good look after a disappointing 2014, he passed the test the following day, but his play was uneven over the first two weeks of practice before he pulled up lame covering rookie Darren Waller on a deep sideline route on Aug. 10.
Webb’s absence has created more opportunities for third-year cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who started and performed well in Saturday’s 40-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. While many remember the 6-foot-2 defensive back’s poor showing against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the playoffs, Melvin played well in two regular-season starts and in the playoff win at Pittsburgh last January.
After a slow start this spring due to offseason shoulder surgery, Melvin continues to improve and is garnering more and more attention as a potential starter down the road, especially if Webb doesn’t bounce back from the difficulties of last season.
“This guy did a lot for us late in the year,” Pees said. “I really give him a lot of credit coming over from Tampa Bay and coming in and all of the sudden getting thrown into the mix and having to play — in the playoffs of all things. I thought he started slow a little bit in [organized team activities] — maybe a little bit because of the surgery and the injury — and I think he has gotten better and better and better.
“I know sometimes it is hard to find bright spots in a game that you lose, but I thought he and [rookie Tray] Walker both were bright spots for us at the corner position [on Saturday].”
Jackson in lead for return job
Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg still hasn’t come to a decision on the primary return specialist job, but reserve cornerback Asa Jackson remains the leader in the clubhouse.
The fourth-year defensive back has returned two punts for 17 yards and two kickoffs for 41 yards in two preseason games.
“We’ll see what happens this week, but it’s a work in progress,” Rosburg said. “We’re working a lot of different guys in practice, and we have to come to some decisions soon, because it’s going to happen quickly. This week, Asa is going to start off for us on punt return and he’s going to start off for us on kick return, and then we’re going to go from there.”
Trying to replace former Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones, Rosburg has been frustrated by the opposition’s reluctance to provide evaluation opportunities with kickoffs as many have instead sailed through the end zone and some opposing returners have downed kicks in the end zone over the first two preseason games.
“We let them play. We try to see who can cover kicks,” Rosburg said. “That’s what we do. But again, I can’t control what other coaches are doing. It makes no sense to me, either, why you’d down a ball two yards into the end zone. That makes no sense to me either. Take it out. Let’s go. That’s why we’re here.”
Rookie ready to fill in for Taliaferro
Though disappointed to see the opportunity come at the expensive of the injured Lorenzo Taliaferro, fourth-round rookie running back Buck Allen is confident that he’s ready to step up as the primary backup to Justin Forsett.
“It’s times like this where you prove yourself,” Allen said. “Can you step in and be that guy and provide for your team and have your team believe in you? It’s a great opportunity for me to go out here and show my teammates and coaches that I’ve been studying my game and in my playbook.”
Allen has carried 17 times for 54 yards and says his ability to pick up blitzes has been his biggest improvement since being drafted out of USC this spring. It’s an attribute he’s likely gained from Forsett, who is regarded as an excellent blocker in the backfield.
The 6-foot, 220-pound rookie back says there are plenty of lessons to learn from Forsett in the classroom as well as on the practice field.
“He’s been through it all from fourth-string guy to being No. 1,” Allen said. “If I follow his lead, I can go down the right path. Justin does a great job of motivating guys in the room and making sure we’re on track and doing the right thing.”