“The Competition” is a BaltimoreRavens.com series that breaks down every position battle leading up to training camp.
James Ihedigbo (6-foot-1, 214 pounds, seventh season): Heading into his second season with the Ravens, the veteran safety has his eyes set on a starting job. He proved to be a valuable addition just before the start of last season, playing a key role on special teams and also adding depth to the safety corps. He performed well when given the opportunity to play, and even started three games when Bernard Pollard was injured. Ihedigbo can play free or strong safety, which will help his chances to get playing time.
Christian Thompson (6-0, 211, second season): Last year’s fourth-round draft pick was used sparingly during his rookie season. He played special teams in seven of the first eight games, but was then placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Thompson was then suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He will serve that four-game suspension at the start of the 2013 season. Despite the injury and suspension, Thompson is still a talented, big-bodied safety who could find a role on the defense.
Omar Brown (5-11, 195, second season): The undrafted free agent earned a spot on the practice squad last season after an impressive training camp and preseason, where he notched four total turnovers. He got called up to the active roster near the end of the season and played special teams in the final three regular-season games. He was inactive for all four playoff games. Brown will compete for a spot on the roster and his most likely role is as a special teamer.
Anthony Levine (5-11, 203, second season): The young safety had a brief stint on the active roster last year before suffering a broken collarbone that ended his season. The injury occurred in Levine’s first NFL game. The former practice squad player is healthy now and hoping to show that he deserves a spot on the roster.
Michael Huff (6-0, 211, eighth season): The veteran joined the Ravens after becoming a salary cap casualty of the Oakland Raiders this offseason. He’s an athletic safety with good speed coverage skills, and he has the versatility to play either safety spot. The former first-round pick has been a consistent starter during his time in the NFL, notching 10 interceptions over the last four seasons. He participated in the entire offseason program, and brings another veteran presence to the locker room.
Matt Elam (5-10, 210, first round): The 32nd-overall pick has been a standout performer during his first couple months in Baltimore. He can play either safety position, and the Ravens have moved him all over the field. Elam was an All-American at Florida, and he’s comfortable coming up to defend the run or playing back in coverage. Elam is known for his speed and hard-hitting ability, and he also showed off his ball skills with a few interceptions of Joe Flacco during minicamp.
Brynden Trawick (6-2, 215, undrafted free agent): Trawick earned a spot on the 90-man roster after a strong performance during rookie minicamp in May. He’s a big safety who runs well, which could make him an asset on special teams. A special teams role will likely be his way onto the roster.
Gary Walker (6-0, 200, undrafted free agent): The undrafted product was a standout during his college career at Idaho. He finished with 295 career tackles and also had an interception last year against LSU, which he returned 94 yards for a touchdown. Like Trawick, his spot on the roster is likely as a special teamer.
This will be one of the competitions to watch during training camp, as the first-round pick tries to earn a starting job. Elam and Huff are the two likely starters, but Ihedigbo is a proven veteran with starting experience. The three of them will push one another for the chance to get on the field.
Part of the strength of the safety corps is that the top three can play either spot. Unlike last year where Bernard Pollard was the strong safety and Ed Reed was the free safety, this year’s group is much more interchangeable. That versatility allows Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees to be more creative in drawing up his coverage packages.
Behind Huff, Elam and Ihedigbo, it’s a wide open competition for the reserve roles. Thompson’s suspension could create an opportunity for Brown, Levine or one of the rookies to earn a roster spot. The Ravens will likely carry four or five safeties on the roster, leaving just one or two roster spots for those players.