Ravens regroup on the corners

Wilson arrives to reinforce injury-depleted secondary

September 10, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Josh Wilson hit the ground running, new playbook in hand. Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb hit it gingerly, the way one might when he is unsure of the result. When Domonique Foxworth hit the ground, he didn't get up.

In the Ravens' summer of great expectation, their cornerbacks can be measured in terms of knee injuries — anterior cruciate ligament tears, even — and rehabilitations.

Foxworth is gone for the season after August surgery. Washington completed his rehab and is ready for the season opener Monday night against the New York Jets. Webb's recovery continues with an uncertain but not too-distant return.

Those were the Ravens' top three cornerbacks last season. How was your offseason, Chuck Pagano?

"It's good they give us a month [off] so I could get away from it and try not to think about it," the team's secondary coach said, stifling a smile.

Pagano didn't actually lose Foxworth until the first practice of training camp. And the Ravens technically didn't replace the six-year veteran until 10 days ago , when they traded for the Seattle Seahawks' Wilson.

But Pagano will go into New Meadowlands Stadium with cautious optimism because of the team's "Next Man Up" mantra, its veteran leadership and its ability to respond to crises like an epidemic of ACL injuries.

"They've done such a great job of always taking care of every position and getting guys in here that understand how we do things," Pagano said of the Ravens' organizational overview. "And they've done that. It's next man up. It's a great opportunity for somebody else to step in."

That opportunity beckons for Wilson, a four-year veteran and onetime understudy to Foxworth at Maryland, just as it does for versatile cornerback Chris Carr and even rookie Bryan McCann, claimed on waivers from the Dallas Cowboys.

For the Ravens to improve at cornerback this season means getting a healthy Webb back to start with Washington, and have Wilson, Carr and potentially Cary Williams — now serving a two-game, NFL suspension — for the nickel and dime defenses. They showed in the preseason they are comfortable using safety Haruki Nakamura in the slot, too.

Wilson, 25, could wind up starting on the outside if Webb or Washington has knee issues. He had 24 starts in 40 games in Seattle. His numbers — six interceptions, two sacks, three touchdowns — suggest playmaker. He also had 10 kick returns of 40 or more yards, including one for an 89-yard touchdown.

He played outside at cornerback and in the slot for the Seahawks. He says it doesn't matter where the Ravens put him.

"I just want to be on that green grass," Wilson said. "As long as I get on the field I and get to play, I don't care where they use me."

Pagano hopes Wilson is a quick study. Coach and cornerback already have met numerous times going over the playbook.

"Right now, I'm optimistic because of his character and what I've seen as far as his willingness to spend every free moment he has in here watching tape, going over the calls, asking questions," Pagano said earlier in the week.

For his part, the 5-foot-9 Wilson said he is getting the defense down and needs only to tweak his terminology and some technique to reach full speed.

"The essence of football and the essence of defense is all the same," he said. "I've just got to learn the way they like to do it, the lingo they like to use. The thing about it is, unfortunately at Seattle we've had three different defenses [in his three years]. … I've already done it two other times."

The Ravens were largely inconsistent a year ago in pass defense. They gave up 3,316 net passing yards, their second highest total over the previous seven seasons. They had 22 interceptions, but only seven by cornerbacks, including four by Foxworth.

That leaves lots of room for improvement and it should start with a revived pass rush. A year ago, the Ravens had a modest 32 sacks, 20th best in the league.

"Everybody's game has got to step up when you lose somebody," Pagano said. "Obviously, [the pass rush] is a point of emphasis. And they're going to get to the quarterback, believe me. [Linebacker Terrell Suggs] is in the best shape of his life."

The Ravens won't be at full strength in the secondary Monday night. In addition to missing safety Ed Reed (on the physically-unable-to-perform list), coach John Harbaugh said he doesn't expect Webb to play against the Jets, either.

"But it's not just one guy, it's 11 guys out there and every one of them doing their job," Pagano said. "We've got such great leadership and such great players in all different spots that those guys are going to rise up and meet the challenge and the expectations."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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