On the first play of team drills, Gary Baxter nearly picked off a deep pass.
Usually, the miss would have gone unnoticed. But yesterday, it dropped jaws.
Playing free safety for the first time in two years, Baxter rapidly covered 25 yards - going from the middle of the field at the 40-yard line to the sideline at the 15 - to run down an open receiver. Baxter, a starting cornerback for the Ravens last year, broke up the pass and would've made an interception if he hadn't avoided a collision in the non-contact workout.
"If he could play every deep ball like he played that one," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said, "he will be safety every week."
Opening another weeklong passing camp at their Owings Mills complex, the Ravens used a different look to help solve a battle in their secondary, moving Baxter to safety and shifting Corey Fuller back to cornerback. It was only two weeks ago when Fuller logged time at safety and Baxter stayed at cornerback.
Although both Baxter and Fuller would prefer to start at corner, the Ravens will likely keep one there and move the other to free safety.
It originally appeared the Ravens would stick with Baxter at cornerback. But if Baxter continues his outstanding play at safety, he could make the decision easy for the Ravens and hard on himself.
"I don't want people to get too comfortable and think, `Well, now he really is a safety,' " said Baxter, who's in his third year.
"I like safety and I love cornerback. But I love being a football player. If you're just a football player, you'll play wherever. My goal is to make plays. That's all that counts."
In his first year as a starter last season, Baxter was growing into the cornerback position and had his best game in the season finale at Pittsburgh. Matched up primarily against Plaxico Burress, Baxter held the Steelers' second-leading receiver to three catches for 52 yards, with help from safeties and linebackers.
He finished with 20 pass breakups and one interception, and ranked second on the team with 90 tackles.
"I love to compete one-on-one," Baxter said. "I love to have that pressure on me. My mentality is being a cornerback."
The Ravens will keep Baxter at safety for this camp but are planning to rotate him and Fuller at both positions on a daily basis during next week's full-team veterans camp.
"I'm playing with the scenarios to get them on tape and evaluate them," secondary coach Donnie Henderson said.
The final decision may not come until midway through training camp, which opens July 28.
"I think we'll know what direction we're heading in by then, but that's not to say you won't see them work at other positions a little bit just to keep them tuned," Nolan said. "What I would not like is if it's 50-50. That's not a good split. If it's [an] 80-20 type thing, that's not a bad deal."
In his first full-time action at safety, Baxter had perhaps his best day of the offseason yesterday.
He followed up that first play by going over the back of receiver Chisom Opara to knock away a throw. Baxter, a former second-round pick, then made a break over the middle and knocked away a pass from quarterback Kyle Boller.
"The first day went real smooth," strong safety Ed Reed said of Baxter. "We didn't make any errors back there. The longer you play with somebody, the better that you get."
Baxter's progression suits Fuller just fine. The nine-year veteran has primarily played cornerback his entire career, and last year with the Browns he showed he can still play the position.
In Week 15, he held Colts receiver Marvin Harrison to an inconsequential three catches in the first half. By the second half, Indianapolis moved Harrison away from Fuller's physical play and lined him up across from Cleveland's Anthony Henry.
"I feel more comfortable at cornerback than safety," Fuller said. "But I'm willing to learn safety and learn how to play it at however high I can go with this ability I've got left after all these bruising years I've been in this business."
Baxter said the competition has brought no animosity between him and Fuller. According to Baxter, Fuller came up to him this offseason and said he would play wherever it made Baxter feel comfortable.
"That speaks a lot about our character and how our relationship is," Baxter said. "From a scale of 1 to 10, our relationship is a 20.
"Either way it goes down, our main goal is to be the best secondary in the NFL. We have the potential to. We're not going to let this be anything to slow the secondary or this team down."
NOTES: Defensive end Michael McCrary is attending to personal business and is scheduled to meet with general manager Ozzie Newsome next week. The Ravens are expected to place the 10-year veteran on the retired-reserve list at that time. ... The first scuffle of the offseason occurred yesterday, when defensive end Jarret Johnson and tight end Lamar Hill exchanged words and then shoves. Teammates separated the two players. ... The only players to miss the start of the voluntary camp were wide receiver Frank Sanders, cornerback Chris McAlister and linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware.