With their signing of cornerback Kyle Arrington earlier this week, the Ravens have officially paid quite a bit of attention to their secondary, an area that topped their fix-it list after last season.
A safety, Kendrick Lewis, likely to start, was their only unrestricted free agent signed from another team.
Their biggest offseason move was agreeing to a long-term deal with their most effective pass defender, cornerback Jimmy Smith, keeping him from entering free agency after the 2015 season.
In moving quickly to grab Arrington after the New England Patriots cut him, they finally found an appropriate replacement for Corey Graham, their former No. 3 corner, whose departure was keenly felt in 2014.
That's more attention than they have paid to any other area of the team, appropriately so. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome pledged to engineer a secondary reconfiguration when the offseason began, and I'd say he made good on that promise. It was never going to be a major overhaul – that's not his style – as much as a spate of low-key moves designed to bolster depth and enhance overall quality.
Mission accomplished, I would say. After a rough 2014, the secondary looks more solid heading into 2015.
The Ravens just need to make one more move to finish the job. They need to go out and buy some bubble wrap to protect those pass defenders.
I'm kidding, but keeping those guys healthy and on the field will be crucial to the team's prospects in 2015.
Newsome actually had a pretty solid blueprint for the secondary in 2014 before a staggering run of injuries to cornerbacks ripped the unit apart. Actually, the original blueprint wasn't quite as solid as this year's because it counted on Chykie Brown stepping up to replace Graham, and he had not shown he was up to that. He wasn't. In the end, though, it was injuries to Smith, Lardarius Webb and other pass defenders that really left the unit in tatters.
It's imperative that the Ravens don't experience a reprise of that sad story this year. They especially need Smith, whose midseason foot injury accelerated the problems in 2014.
You can't do much to avoid injuries, of course. They're random events, never scheduled or anticipated. As the Jacksonville Jaguars learned when their top draft pick went down a few weeks ago, serious injuries can occur in benign soft-contact minicamp drills just as easily as in a game. The Ravens already knew that, remembering the knee injury that struck down Dominique Foxworth during a light drill on the eve of training camp in 2010 – a cornerback catastrophe from another time.
You can wrap a china vase in bubble wrap to keep it from shattering, but a cover corner is too big. Smith has only made it through one of his four pro seasons without missing time. Webb has dealt with serious knee and back trouble. The Ravens can only hope both have better luck in 2015.
The good news for the Ravens is they're more girded for emergencies this year after bolstering their front-line secondary with Lewis and Arrington. I see them as part of a starting five along with Smith, Webb and Will Hill, all guys with quality track records. (It's five because so many offenses use three-wideout sets now that three corners and two safeties are on the field most of the time.) And by bolstering their starting group, the Ravens give their younger pass defenders some breathing room, i.e., time to develop without the pressure of holding down a full-time job.
Consider Rashaan Melvin, a wide-winged 6-foot-2 cornerback whom the organization likes. He had never played before last season and wound up starting playoff games because the team had no one else to turn to. If the secondary blueprint unfolds without so many catastrophes this year, he'll still get on the field, but in a more appropriate role.
The depth chart actually features a handful of young players who, like Melvin, possess starting potential but need more seasoning. Cornerbacks in that situation include Asa Jackson and rookie Tray Walker; safeties include a pair of former high draft picks, Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks.
Don't be shocked if one elbows his way into a more prominent role. The organization certainly has challenged Elam to perform better.
One way or another, the Ravens are expecting a tighter performance from their secondary after making it a priority during the offseason. They've put a framework in place. All they need now is more cooperation from the injury fates.