Entering his eighth season, Lardarius Webb now feels at home in the Ravens defense.
Webb took the next step in his conversion from cornerback to safety last week during Ravens Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and he's off to a good start.
When asked if it's been mentally tough to change positions, Webb scoffed.
"I feel like I've always been a safety anyway," he said last week. "I was a safety in high school and in college. I really never played corner until I got to the league."
Webb said playing cornerback was a "pride thing." He liked playing one-on-one against some of the best wide receivers in the game. It fed into his competitive nature.
But while Webb said he "liked" playing cornerback, he "loves" the safety position.
"It's a great transition; I'm loving it," he said. "I feel like I'm a natural at it."
The Ravens gave Webb a trial run at safety near the end of last season, then made the move permanent after speaking with him about it at year's end.
They like Webb at safety for multiple reasons. At 30 years old and after two ACL surgeries, Webb isn't as quick as he used to be. The Ravens are looking to get more turnovers after a franchise-low six interceptions last year, and Webb has one of the best sets of hands in the secondary and his instincts have only improved with age.
Webb also gives the defense another wrinkle. If he can play safety and drop down to play cornerback or nickel, the Ravens can mix and match their coverages. Webb and Kendrick Lewis could share snaps next to new starting safety Eric Weddle.
"I think it really gives us some flexibility, with he and Eric both, moving guys around and disguising our defenses a little bit," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I think his athleticism translates really well to being back in the deep end and getting over top of routes and trying to make plays on the ball."
While Webb has familiarity with the position, it's a whole lot different playing safety at Beauregard High School and small-school Nicholls State when compared to the NFL. Webb said, in terms of his offseason work, it feels like he's back to being a rookie or sophomore in the league.
"I just have to stay in that playbook more," he said. "I have to be in that playbook every night to make sure everybody is on point."
Webb is no stranger to the playbook and film study. He picked that habit up from his mentor and one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game, Ed Reed. Webb and Reed are still in touch, even though Reed is now an assistant defensive backs coach for the Buffalo Bills, who just happen to be the Ravens' Week 1 opponent.
"I don't want to tell him too much about what's going on up here," Webb joked.
"I always talk to him and watch his old film. He was a different type of player – one of the greats. He was just a smart player. Me, I just want to get the hang of it first. I don't want to be jumping stuff I shouldn't be jumping – things that he used to do, but made great plays. I just want to learn the position."
In other words, Webb needs to learn how to crawl before he can walk, and walk before he can run.
"Learn the opponent and learn what you're doing so I can know where my help is," Webb said, relaying Reed's advice. "Just knowing the defense and where I can jump stuff."
Webb showed off some of his range in Thursday's practice when he came over the top to defend a long pass down the left sideline. Although it bounced off his hands as the players all tried to avoid contact, it was a good sign that Webb was in the right place.
Webb not only has to learn where he needs to be, but also has to know everybody else's responsibilities. That should be easier considering he used to perform those cornerback duties himself.
Instead of getting his kicks off one-on-one matchups against wide receivers, Webb is now enjoying having more of a voice in the secondary. He was a respected leader before, especially after signing a six-year deal prior to the 2012 season, but now he'll be directing more traffic, making the checks and giving instructions.
If Webb needs any help with that, he'll have Weddle right by his side. Weddle has been lining up in the San Diego Chargers defense for the past eight years, and Webb knows he'll be a resource to lean on.
"I'm never too old or too young to learn from someone," Webb said. "I'm always reaching out to Eric, 'If you know something, tell me. If you see something wrong, please tell me.' I just want the best for this team."