For Ravens Rookie Marlon Humphrey, Nothing (Not Even This Rivalry) Seems Too Big


It was his first NFL game, and Marlon Humphrey stepped in across from Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, a six-time Pro Bowler.

It was then that the advice of one of his high school coaches popped into his head.

Stay calm.

It doesn't seem like Humphrey needs many reminders of that.

Since joining the Ravens in April, the first-round rookie cornerback out of Alabama has had an even-keel, confident approach. Nothing seems to big for him – not even Sunday's upcoming Ravens-Steelers rivalry.

"I'm pretty excited," Humphrey said with a smile, later repeating that message on Twitter.

While Humphrey still has a limited sample size of action with just 42 snaps, he's been highly impressive. And his role only continues to increase.

According to Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades, he's been the team's best defensive back when he's on the field, barely edging out fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith. While many Ravens had a rough game in London, Humphrey got the defense's highest marks.

Humphrey has been targeted five times so far this season, per PFF. He's given up just one catch for 3 yards and broke up two passes. Quarterbacks have a 39.6 rating when throwing in his direction.

Humphrey has been successful by getting right up in wide receivers' grills. He gets his hands on them early to try to throw off their timing and disrupt the route, then mirrors them down the field. It's the kind of coverage the Ravens have needed for years.

"I love his demeanor. I love how it hasn't been too big for him," veteran safety Eric Weddle said. "He's physical at the line of scrimmage. He can run with anyone, I mean, the guy can fly. .. He has a bright future."

The Ravens loved Humphrey's athleticism and physicality when they made him the 16th-overall pick. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds (faster than many receivers) and has great size at 6-foot-0, 197 pounds. On paper, he's the prototypical cornerback.

But what's perhaps been best to see is how Humphrey has transitioned what he did in college to the pros. He's been just as good on the field as he looks on paper.

"He's exactly what we've expected him to be: he's smart; he's tough; he has the talents; he has all the types of physical abilities to play the type of corner that we want to play with," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

Humphrey was even impressive in the way he handled his first rough NFL play so far. In the second quarter of Sunday's 44-7 loss in Jacksonville, Humphrey was flagged for pass interference 29 yards down the field.

The call could have gone either way, as both players had their hands on each other, but it went against Humphrey and the Ravens. Humphrey kept his cool.

Three plays later, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles tested Humphrey again, this time with a red-zone jump ball to receiver Keelan Cole. Humphrey was physical at the line, stayed glued to Cole and the pass fell incomplete.

"Whenever I get a call, good or bad, I try to figure out what I did wrong and talk to the ref, try to get him on my side," he said with a grin.

Humphrey was just 20 years old when the Ravens drafted him, but he had big-time experience beyond his years. His father played in the league and Humphrey played at the biggest college football program in the country.

Humphrey said playing at Alabama probably did break him in for the pressure of the NFL. He faced a lot of top-10 teams, played in two SEC championships and the national championship.

"I think it definitely helped a little bit," he said. "But I hear this is the best rivalry in football. I'm not sure if anything will be able to prepare you for this."

Despite a somewhat sluggish offensive start to the season, the Steelers have one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the league.

Everybody in Baltimore knows what quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is capable of, and Antonio Brown once again leads the NFL in receiving yards (354). Pittsburgh also has deep threat Martavis Bryant and a couple of talented young receivers in Eli Rogers and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Humphrey was asked if there's ever been a time when he hasn't wanted to use physical press coverage on the wide receiver opposite him. He thought for a second.

"I've never had that before," he said. "I know Antonio Brown is one of the best in the game, but I've got to stick to what I do best. Press is kind of what we do here. Whether he gets to me or not, I've got to stick with what I know."

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