Eisenberg: Future Is Brighter For Ravens Secondary After Offseason Changes


When the Ravens' decision-makers met with the media several days after the 2015 season, General Manager Ozzie Newsome was asked whether he wanted to bolster the secondary with new pieces going forward or essentially stand pat because the pass defense improved down the stretch of a losing season.

"Would we like to add some more pieces if they're available to us? We will definitely add them as we move forward," Newsome declared.

I thought that was a good idea. Even though the pass defense jumped from No. 29 in the league at midseason to No. 10 by the end, that rise didn't tell the whole story. The Ravens still set a franchise record for fewest interceptions in a season in 2015. And even though the pass defense improved, a December shredding by Seattle's Russell Wilson indicated all was not so well.

The Ravens have followed through on Newsome's pledge to "definitely" make changes. They hired Leslie Frazier, a respected former NFL head coach, to oversee the secondary. Their No. 1 free-agent acquisition is a safety, Eric Weddle, expected to transform the back end of the defense. They didn't select a cornerback early in the 2016 NFL Draft, but they did use the No. 104 overall selection on Tavon Young, a slot corner who could contribute right away, Newsome said.

Along the way, they also ponied up significant money to keep one of their 2015 starting cornerbacks, Shareece Wright, from hitting free agency, and announced they're moving veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb to safety.

Add it all up and it's a lot of change – hands-down more than any other area of the team has experienced.

But is it enough to transform a secondary that has experienced its share of dark days over the past few years?

It's a fair question because the Ravens obviously had ideas about doing even more. Newsome has confirmed he tried to trade up in the draft's first round to take Jalen Ramsey, judged by scouts as an elite cornerback in the making. When the deal didn't materialize, Newsome tried unsuccessfully to trade into the end of the second round, presumably to take a cornerback.

Since the draft represented his last chance to make a big, bold move, the Ravens probably are just about finished reconstructing their pass defense. Anything that happens from now on is likely a lesser move.

I'm not going to lie: the possibility of adding Ramsey was pretty exciting, conjuring visions of a secondary vastly transformed from its beleaguered state early in the 2015 season.

But even without that move, there's reason to believe the 2016 secondary will be tighter.

Weddle's presence alone should elevate the entire group. He's renowned for studying enough film to make sure everyone knows their assignments.

"He comes in the building at 5 a.m. to study film, and you know a safety like that is going to put you in the right position to make plays, and he is going to be in the right position to make plays. So, I think he's going to help our defense in the back end tremendously," cornerback Jimmy Smith said in a recent interview.

It remains to be seen how Webb transitions alongside Weddle, but he's a sure tackler, and his hands and ball skills make him an interesting prospect as a ranging playmaker.

At corner, Pro Football Focus was rough on Smith's 2015 performance, but he recently had surgery to remove screws from the foot he injured in 2014, a minor setback that should help him perform at a higher level. Wright figures to start opposite Smith after Pro Football Focus graded him in the top third of the league's cornerbacks in 2015.

Young and veteran Kyle Arrington should compete for the slot job, although I wouldn't rule out Will Davis, who was around the ball a lot in his brief time on the field before a knee injury ended his 2015 season. Maurice Canady, a sixth-round draft pick, will also get a chance to show what he can do.

Sure, there are questions. How will Weddle adapt to playing for a new team? Can Webb really make the switch? Can Wright keep it up? Can Smith rebound? Can one of the No. 3 corner candidates handle the role?

But there are always questions. All things considered, the outlook is brighter.

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