Ravens Secondary Depth Already Being Tested
What was a beautiful day of practice took a terrible twist when second-year cornerback Tavon Young suffered a knee injury later confirmed to be an ACL tear.
After a standout rookie season in which he played in all 16 games and made 11 starts as a fourth-round pick out of Temple, Young was on the verge of breaking out in the Ravens' loaded secondary.
But, as has been the case too often in recent years, the Ravens have been snake-bitten at the position.
The Ravens have placed 11 cornerbacks on injured reserve over the last three seasons, per ESPN's Jamison Hensley. That includes five last year, which tied the New Orleans Saints for the most in the secondary, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"Tavon Young's torn anterior cruciate ligament is a significant blow to the Baltimore Ravens' upgraded secondary," Hensley wrote.
"It also extends the Ravens' painful streak at cornerback. … Over the years, when a Ravens defender was down on the ground, you'd assume it was a cornerback who was hurt. That's how frequent Baltimore players got injured at that position."
Baltimore already went into the offseason wanting to build more depth at the position because the Ravens have seen how often cornerbacks get injured.
The Ravens signed veteran cornerback Brandon Carr, who is the most durable in the league and has never missed a start in his nine-year career. Baltimore drafted Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round.
"The Ravens were tired of going against Tom Brady in the playoffs with an inexperienced Rashaan Melvin," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore wanted to avoid relying on struggling Shareece Wright to stop Ben Roethlisberger with the AFC North title on the line."
Now that depth will be put to the test. And filling Young's nickel spot – the position he was drafted specifically to play – may be one of the more challenging assignments in the secondary.
"While the Ravens are set at outside cornerback with Humphrey, Carr and Jimmy Smith, the challenge is find someone to replace Young at the specialized position of nickelback," Hensley wrote. "Covering the slot means being able to tackle, take on offensive linemen, read routes, move laterally, cover quick receivers, cover elite receivers, cover in short areas, cover deep, and rush the passer.
"Now, there's a void in the middle of what could be the top secondary in the NFL."
So Who Steps Up? Humphrey?
In the NFL, injuries quickly turn into questions. Who will step up to fill the void?
Maurice Canady was the first player called on in Thursday's practice, and he responded with a whopping three interceptions (two caught on video). Re-signed veteran Lardarius Webb, who played in the slot early in his career, is another candidate. What about Kyle Arrington or perhaps Anthony Levine?
Then there's Humphrey, who told reporters that he practiced some at nickel at Alabama, but never played it in a game. To Baltimore Beatdown's Matthew Cohen, Humphrey makes the most sense.
"In my mind, this is actually a perfect situation for Marlon Humphrey," Cohen wrote. "Many, including myself, have debated whether or not Humphrey or new signee Brandon Carr should be the starting corner opposite Jimmy Smith. I previously wrote that Carr's experience will win him the battle against Humphrey.
"However, the Ravens should now try to teach Humphrey the position that he will be more likely to play in his rookie year, slot corner."
Cohen writes that playing the nickel would help "ease" Humphrey into the NFL because he wouldn't typically be facing a team's best or second-best receiver on the outside. He also argues that it would help Humphrey refine his ball skills. Lastly, it would give Humphrey, 20, more experience earlier in his career.
"The slot wasn't the position that Marlon Humphrey was drafted to play. No one expected that the Ravens would have an injury to a key player so early," Cohen wrote.
"But the Ravens thrive on a next-man-up mentality. Getting a year to acclimate to the NFL in the slot could really help provide a strong foundation for Humphrey, a foundation that may be crucial in the Alabama product's development into a star corner on the outside in the future."
While there's no doubt that Young's injury hurts, the Ravens have time to find an answer before the start of the regular season. That's what the rest of OTAs, minicamp and training camp are for.
"Baltimore will miss Young in the nickel," wrote NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman. "But his early-June exit shouldn't completely derail the Ravens' hopes at returning to the postseason after a two-year absence."
Dumervil Scheduled to Work Out for 49ers
When the Ravens released Elvis Dumervil on March 8, General Manager Ozzie Newsome praised the impact Dumervil made on and off the field in his four years in Baltimore.
Then he added, "We have not closed the door on the possibility of him returning in the future."
It's not just lip service. The Ravens brought back Webb a month after saying something very similar earlier this offseason.
However, it now appears Dumervil will be heading elsewhere for his 12th season. The 33-year-old pass rusher is scheduled to work out for the San Francisco 49ers in the next couple of days, reports ESPN's Dan Graziano.
Dumervil was slowed by a nagging foot injury last season that held him out of eight games and limited him to just three sacks. He had six sacks in 2015 after notching 17 in 2014. He currently sits at 99 career sacks.
After leaving the door open for Dumervil to return, the Ravens underwent a youth movement at the position by drafting Tyus Bowser in the second round and Tim Williams in the fourth. The Ravens now have a bounty of young pass rushers when also factoring in Matthew Judon and Za'Darius Smith.
Watch Brandon Williams Put Up 'Sick Weight'
Want proof that Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams is crazy strong?
Check out this video, posted by Ravens Director of Performance Steve Saunders yesterday morning.
Sure, what looks to be 225 pounds isn't all that impressive as a straight bench press. But when you're handling all that weight with just your forearms … wowzers.
Saunders used the hashtag, #sickweight. Seems appropriate.
And here's Williams' sidekick on the defensive line, Michael Pierce, also going nuts.