On his first night as the Ravens' primary punt returner, Tom Zbikowski dared fate at least once and got away with it.
In the third quarter of the team's 10-9 season-opening victory over the New York Jets on Monday night, the starting free safety fielded a 56-yard punt by Steve Weatherford at the Ravens' 5-yard line and then ran laterally in front of the goal line looking for a running lane.
He found none and took a 4-yard loss to the 1 on the play, putting the Ravens in tough field position. Afterwards, Zbikowski admitted he got caught up in the moment.
"I took a chance on that one," he said. "I lost track of where I was. I lined up on the 15, and I thought I was drifting more left, but I felt myself going back a little bit. I didn't know I was that deep."
For Zbikowski, who tied a Notre Dame record with three punt returns for touchdowns, Monday night's performance was uneven at best.
His best return was on the game's first punt, when he went 10 yards. But after that, he returned three punts in the second half for a combined total of -5 yards, running into a Jets coverage team that was stout all night.
"The first one, I had a little opening," Zbikowski said. "I think maybe I could have taken it to the outside. [But] they were coming hard all night."
Zbikowski acknowledged that there is room to grow, a sentiment echoed by his coach.
"I thought he did a nice job of catching the ball and securing the ball, but I think he tried too hard to make a play," coach John Harbaugh said. "Sometimes guys will do that in their first outing. You've got to respect the guys covering a little bit more and take the ball north and south. … Zibby will learn from that. We had a good conversation about it on the train, and it was good-hearted. He'll be fine, but we need better."
Harbaugh wouldn't go as far to say that he is not considering other options on punt returns. Chris Carr averaged 8.2 yards on 32 punt returns last season.
"We'll see," he said. "We never rule anything out. Chris Carr's an option and so are some other guys. But Zibby, I think he'll be good at it."
Webb unfazed by deactivation
Lardarius Webb had targeted the team's season opener for his return from the anterior cruciate ligament he had torn in his right knee on Dec. 20, but the comeback was delayed as the cornerback was declared inactive by team.
"We didn't know," Webb said of his readiness for the Jets. "I was just coming prepared to play. We were going to come to a group decision, and the decision was for me to sit out."
Solid performances by Fabian Washington and Carr helped alleviate any pressure on Webb, who said, "We're not going to rush it. … I would like to be around the Ravens for a while, and I just want to be 100 percent when I do give them my 100 percent. I will be back soon."
Harbaugh said on Tuesday that the organization would continue to be cautious with Webb.
"It's just a healing process," Harbaugh said. "… We've said before, we don't want to rush those guys back. We didn't want to rush Fabian back. Fabian, we really had to hold back. Lardarius, between he and the doctors and what we see, we're just going to take it slow. We want it to be right when he comes back. I thought he had a chance to play last week, and he wasn't able to do it in the end. I think he's got a chance to play this week. Whether he can do it or not, it's really going to be his decision."
Nakamura answers the call
Because of the deactivation of Webb and fellow cornerback Bryan McCann, the Ravens lined up Haruki Nakamura, a safety by definition, in the slot in the nickel defense all night, and he held Jerricho Cotchery to two catches and 18 yards out of five balls thrown his way.
Namakura saw his contribution in the bigger picture of the defense.
"We only had seven guys [active] as defensive backs," he said. "We were very limited. We have guys that can play any position, including safety. Every person plays a role and you're asked to do a job, and you've got to step up and do it."
Harbaugh praised Nakamura, saying, "With Haruki, I don't think we anticipated necessarily him to this level being able to cover in the slot. Now he's got some things that he does really well, and of course, he's got limitations. … But he understands the defense really well, he's very quick and athletic, and he's a playmaker. Those are things that are hard, and in that position in there, those are the most important things, if you understand what you're doing."
Cousins not surprised at inactivity
The decision to start Marshal Yanda at right tackle could be interpreted as concern on the part of the coaching and training staff about the health of offensive tackle Oniel Cousins.
Cousins, however, said he continues to improve with each day, and he understood the decision to be a reserve Monday night.