More than at any other position, the Ravens shuffled their safeties this offseason.
Out went Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. In came Michael Huff and first-round rookie Matt Elam, who many pundits expected to take over as the starters.
But a player who the Ravens already had, strong safety James Ihedigbo, has quietly emerged as the secondary's leader and an impact player.
"I feel like he's one of our smartest players on the team," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "He's very aggressive. He comes down on the run and makes plays in the pass game. It's not a surprise to us at all that he plays that well."
Ihedigbo recorded nine tackles, including two for a loss, and two pass deflections in Sunday's 30-9 win over the Houston Texans. He broke out his trademark "Grave Digger" dance move a couple of times, and was part of a secondary that held Houston's high-octane passing game to less than 200 yards.
"James had a great game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
But Ihedigbo's biggest impact may be as the glue that is binding the revamped Ravens defense full of new faces, especially on the back end – although he won't take credit for it.
"Whenever there is a changing of the tide, a torch being passed down … there has to be guys stepping up," Ihedigbo said. "There are younger guys looking around wondering who that's going to be.
"This week I was like, 'How can I exert myself and give everything for my boys, for my teammates, for my brothers?' That's what it's about – emotion and play. I ask a lot of them, and they ask a lot of me."
Ihedigbo pointed to outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, cornerback Lardarius Webb, wide receiver Torrey Smith and quarterback Joe Flacco as the team's new leaders. His teammates point back at him.
"He's the captain back there, and he's doing a great job," Webb said. "He means a lot to this defense."
Ihedigbo, 29, has flown under the radar since coming to Baltimore last season.
He was a 12-game starter in New England in 2011, but was primarily a special teams player in his first season with the Ravens. He played in all 16 games, but started just three and made 25 tackles.
The seven-year veteran did learn a lot under Ed Reed, however. Ihedigbo and Reed caught up after Sunday's game.
"He is such a player that always has wisdom to shower on you," Ihedigbo said. "In talking to him, he continued to encourage me as a player. And he has helped so much in terms of my development as a safety. I thanked him for that, and I told him I loved him."
Ihedigbo does a lot of the same things that Reed was known for. Webb said Ihedigbo handles a lot of the communication. He keeps the defense talking, in the right defenses, in the right spot.
Ihedigbo has also laid down high expectations for the Ravens' defensive backfield.
"Where we want to go as a team and as a defense starts with us in the secondary," Ihedigbo said. "If guys can embrace that pressure and embrace what is asked of them, sky's the limit to where we can go."