It was unknown what role Stewart would fit into after he was added on March 21. Stewart played strong safety in St. Louis and was only a full-time starter in one of his four seasons (2011).
When talking with reporters on Tuesday, Head Coach John Harbaugh helped clarify Stewart’s spot.
“He could definitely start,” Harbaugh said. “He has started quite a bit in the past.”
In 2011, Stewart logged 84 tackles, three sacks, 11 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one interception (against the Saints’ Drew Brees), which he returned for a 27-yard touchdown.
He started six of the 13 games he played in last season and notched 36 tackles, five pass deflections and one forced fumble.
It speaks to the value the Ravens have in Stewart that he’s the only unrestricted free agent from another team that Baltimore has signed this offseason, which may affect compensatory picks next offseason.
The problem for the former undrafted South Carolina product hasn’t been talent. It’s been staying healthy. Soft-tissue injuries, such as hamstring problems, have plagued him.
“That’s kind of kept him from really taking off as a player,” Harbaugh said. “But when you watch the tape, he’s playing really well.
“He’s going to make sure he gets in probably the best shape of his life and stay healthy, and with our situation he’s going to be competing for a starting spot. Now how that changes throughout the draft, we’ll see.”
Stewart’s former coach, St. Louis Head Coach Jeff Fisher, spoke about what the Ravens should expect at the NFL owners meetings last week.
Fisher believes that part of Stewart’s medical problems stemmed from the 2012 offseason when he elected to go back to school to get his degree during the team’s voluntary offseason program. Fisher said he believes it affected Stewart’s conditioning, which led to injuries in training camp.
“When he got on the field he was productive,” Fisher said. “That’s the thing. He’s got real good range. He’s a contact tackler. He has potential to be an outstanding special teams player.”
Both Harbaugh and Fisher said Stewart can play free safety. Despite being technically a strong safety, Stewart did play in deep coverage on occasion. Fisher said he’s interchangeable between both positions.
“He can definitely play free safety. And Matt [Elam] can play free safety too,” Harbaugh said.
As Harbaugh noted, Stewart’s grasp on the starting job could be affected by the draft as well.The Ravens could select a free safety high. If they do, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are widely considered the top options. Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward is a versatile option who can play both strong and free safety.