Rebuilt Secondary Expected To Be A Strength

Team Added Quantity With Foxworth, Carr, Webb, Now Looks For Quality

August 06, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

The makeover of the Ravens' secondary continued with vigor in the offseason, two years after the unit had become a sinkhole for a proud defense.

With clockwork precision, the Ravens signed cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr in March, then drafted Lardarius Webb in April with the expectation that he could make the transition from college safety to NFL corner.

Combine those changes with roster turnover from 2008 and the Ravens' secondary has gone from a blinking yellow light to a four-way stop sign. At least that was the hope when the team awarded Foxworth, who attended Western Tech and Maryland, a four-year contract with $16.5 million in guaranteed money early in free agency.

The quality of the changes at cornerback is still working out; the Ravens need someone to become a shut-down corner. But the quantity is already impressive. It will allow the Ravens to better handle injury issues, something they couldn't do in 2007, when the team ranked 20th in pass defense, and last season, when it ranked No. 2. Gone from last year's secondary are Chris McAlister, one of the best players in Ravens history, and Corey Ivy, one of the shortest.

"I think we have five or six corners that could easily play on this team," said cornerback Fabian Washington, acquired in a 2008 draft-day trade. "That's one thing I like because it keeps you from being complacent and thinking that a position is yours. There's no position other than [safety] Ed Reed's in the secondary that's a lock right now."

Still, it would be a surprise if Foxworth and Washington aren't starting opening day. They are two of the fastest cornerbacks in the league, five-year veterans who came out of the same draft. Washington was picked by the Oakland Raiders in the first round in 2005 after running the 40-yard dash in an official 4.29 seconds. Foxworth ran a 4.34 and went to the Denver Broncos in the third round.

The similarities run deeper. Both are listed at 5 feet 11 and 180 pounds, both are 26, both have good cover skills, and both are intelligent and competitive.

"I've never been around a smarter group of guys, guys with a higher football IQ," Foxworth said of the Ravens' defense. "It's just great to be around so many guys that are so smart. It reduces the errors, and it makes you lift your game."

Washington started 12 regular-season games with the Ravens a year ago and led the team in passes defended with 19. He had one interception in the regular season and another in the playoffs. He played his best football down the stretch and into the postseason.

Chuck Pagano, who coaches the secondary, said Washington's late-season success was born of confidence and familiarity.

"He's real comfortable with the scheme and the calls being made, so he knows it cold," Pagano said. "Now he's not thinking out there, he's just playing."

Washington struggled with injuries a year ago, missing four games. He had two offseason surgeries to remove a disc in his neck and repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.

And one day after he said he felt the best he has ever felt, Washington missed Wednesday's practice with tendinitis in his knee. He's in the final year of his original contract, due to make $1.515 million.

Foxworth is still on a learning curve after spending one season with the Atlanta Falcons and three with the Broncos.

"Most [teams] run pretty similar things," he said. "It's more personality of this team and terminology [that are different]. That's easy -- just study and you'll get the terminology, and I think I fit right in with the personalities on this team.

"I feel like I'm still trying to earn my wings and really be a part of this defense. I think that comes with the respect of making plays in the season."

It also comes with the camaraderie of the locker room and meeting rooms. Washington said defensive backs need a thick skin in that meeting room, and Pagano said the group is "relentlessly obsessed with perfection.

"It's an old cliche: You either get better or you get worse," Pagano said. "And we're gaining ground."

Pagano is encouraged by the competitive level and depth of the secondary. Carr is working at nickel with the first unit; Webb has looked good at times. Frank Walker, Evan Oglesby and rookie K.J. Gerard all get repetitions at cornerback. Veteran Samari Rolle joins the group today when he comes off the physically-unable-to-perform list after having neck surgery.

"They're a close group," Foxworth said. "There's no finger-pointing when people make mistakes. I think everybody knows their responsibility and accepts that responsibility. And I like that accountability and the maturity we have on this defense, especially, and on the team."

Today:

Practices at 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Inside

Rolle expected back soon PG 10

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