The Ravens secondary has been a source of consternation among fans for the past couple years as injuries, big plays and a lack of interceptions have plagued the group.
Baltimore Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees thinks that tune is going to change this year.
It's still early, but Pees was quite happy with the improvement and direction of his secondary coming out of minicamp last week.
"I feel like there's been a lot said about the secondary," Pees said. "I think you're going to be very surprised."
Here are five reasons why Baltimore's secondary should be much better:
1) Hiring of Secondary Coach Leslie Frazier
2) Addition of field general and playmaker Eric Weddle
3) Move of Lardarius Webb to safety
4) Growth of young safeties
5) Emergence of new and young cornerbacks
The improvements actually began midway through last season. The Ravens gave up too many big plays at the start of last season and it cost them dearly in losses to the Raiders, Bengals, Browns, 49ers and Cardinals. However, Baltimore gave up the fewest passing yards in the league over the second half of the season and finished 10th in the NFL (234 yards per game).
The Ravens built on the momentum by rewarding cornerback Shareece Wright, one of the defense's best players over the second half, with a three-year extension. But Baltimore didn't rest there.
Head Coach John Harbaugh first added Frazier, who comes with a top-notch pedigree as a former head coach and former NFL cornerback. He played on perhaps the greatest defense of all-time, the 1985 Bears, and posted 20 interceptions in five career seasons.
Pees said Frazier has brought a degree of calmness in the classroom, which has helped teach the Ravens' complex secondary. With his credibility, he's emphasized getting more interceptions after the Ravens finished last in the league with just six last season (a franchise low). Frazier's influence seems to be paying off already, as Ravens defensive backs came up with multiple interceptions every day of minicamp, and often from different sources.
"Everybody in that room, including our coaches, are putting it in our head to get turnovers," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "It's kind of a fight. … Everybody, every day, is trying to strip the ball, pick up the ball, intercept the ball. I think it is going to be improved this year."
General Manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens then made one of the biggest free-agent signings of the offseason by landing Weddle in free agency.
It's already clear that Weddle will be a difference-maker. Since the departure of Ed Reed following the 2012 Super Bowl season, the Ravens haven't had anybody on the back end of the defense with as much know-how or experience in directing a defense.
Weddle is not only making a difference with communication and lining everybody up, but also as a playmaker. He's very active before snaps and was constantly around the ball this summer.
"I really think that Eric has added a lot to us," Pees said.
Webb has moved to safety alongside Weddle, and the two have built visible chemistry. The Ravens gave Webb a tryout at safety late last year and went all-in this offseason. Webb said he loves his new position, and seems to be playing with renewed vigor.
"I think that's a great spot for 'Webbie' right now, and I think he feels more and more comfortable every day," Pees said.
With Webb and Weddle now at safety, the Ravens have a lot more depth at the position. Baltimore will have a tough decision to make when it comes to choosing between Kendrick Lewis, Terrence Brooks, Matt Elam and Anthony Levine. They may not all make the team.
"I think Matt Elam has had a great camp, Terrence Brooks is working really hard, and Kendrick Lewis is a staple back there," Pees said. "That guy never makes a mistake; he's in the right spot all the time."
Webb's move not only puts a better playmaker in the deep secondary, but it allows the team to work in some new blood at cornerback.
The Ravens did not select a cornerback in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, but they used a high fourth-round pick to grab feisty Temple product Tavon Young and their final selection in the sixth round on experienced bigger-bodied cornerback Maurice Canady.
Pees said Canady was one of minicamp's top producers and that Young has "done really well." They've both made very few mistakes, Pees pointed out.
"[I am] very, very pleased with those guys," he said.
Baltimore then signed veteran cornerback Jerraud Powers in mid-May to give themselves a proven starter at nickel cornerback. According to Smith, Powers is "dominating everyone" in the defensive backs room in terms of getting their hands on the ball. He had interceptions on multiple days in minicamp, including one that would have gone for a touchdown.
Add it all up, and the Ravens secondary has a lot of potential. But it's still June, and there's a long way to go and a lot more to prove.
"I think we are going to be good, but I always think that," Smith said.
"It's all kind of finesse [without pads during minicamp]. Come training camp, we will know what we have after a couple preseason games. Right now, it looks good with what I see on film with the new guys – even the young guys out there. They look pretty good."
Check out all the action from the three-day minicamp, where the Ravens had high-intensity practices in their final tune-up before training camp.