Everyone knows the Ravens have arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL with Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. But beyond the Pro Bowlers, Baltimore's secondary is also special because of its depth – players such as Anthony Averett.
As he enters his fourth season, Averett is in a key position as a top reserve. The Ravens are unfortunately no stranger to injuries at cornerback and Averett is like having a cozy electric security blanket. That doesn't make it easy on Averett, but at the same time, he understands it.
"Definitely, I want to be out there, and definitely want to play," Averett said. "But I know the circumstances. I know this is the NFL and I love to be here; I love the Ravens. We have a deep secondary – I know that – but whenever I get my chance, I just ball. I just do my best."
Averett's start at training camp was delayed by a couple days as he passed his conditioning test, but since he's stepped onto the field, he's been a standout in coverage. While Humphrey stole the show in Tuesday's practice with four straight pass breakups, Averett also had a strong day.
Last season, Averett played in 10 games and started four, breaking up seven passes while making 27 tackles – both career-highs. A shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve midway through the year, but he returned to step in for banged-up Jimmy Smith down the stretch.
Pro Football Focus graded Averett as the 50th best cornerback in the NFL last year. Considering that there are 64 starting cornerbacks league-wide, that would make him starting caliber on most other teams. Averett was graded higher than big-name players such as Denver's Kyle Fuller, Miami's Byron Jones and Philadelphia's Darius Slay.
"I'm definitely confident just coming off that season last year," Averett said. "And this year, I'm balling in camp, and it just comes with the confidence. I mean, I [was] balling last year. I know the system. This is my fourth year I've been here, so I'm just comfortable."
The Ravens still have Smith returning as a top reserve and Swiss-Army knife in their defense, making it difficult for Averett to see consistent defensive snaps barring injuries. But Averett learned how to be patient in college at Alabama, where the New Jersey track star had to wait three years for his chance to become a defensive contributor.
Once he got on the field, Averett shined across from Humphrey in 2016, then again as the top guy in 2017. The Ravens picked him in the fourth round in 2018.
"I sat for plenty of years, then I got my chance got my opportunity, and I never left the field after that," Averett said. "So, that's my mission, that's my goal. [There's] nothing wrong with sitting back and just actually learning, and that's what I pretty much did, and now you see the outcome."
Ravens 'Intrigued' By Josh Oliver
Tight end Josh Oliver has heated up in recent practices, making a spectacular touchdown grab over Averett on Monday, then stiff-arming safety Geno Stone to the ground on Tuesday.
It's a taste of what the former third-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars can bring.
"I think Josh is an intriguing guy – height, weight, speed guy with good hands," Tight Ends Coach Bobby Engram said. "And he's a guy who's developing. He's working.
"He's been through some things while he's been in this league, so I think experience will help him out. But he's a guy that's an extremely hard worker, he fits into the room, and he's a guy that has a desire to be a really good football player. So, we're excited to have him, and we just want to keep growing him and keep bringing him along as a player."
Because of injuries, Oliver played in just four games during his first two years in the league. Now he's in position to earn a third tight end spot on the Ravens' roster behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle.
Engram said the intersquad practices with the Carolina Panthers and three preseason games will be where players can separate in the competition. Besides Oliver, there are other young tight ends including Eric Tomlinson, Eli Wolf and rookie Ben Mason.
"Having the guys out there on the field, and to see them go out and operate – the young guys – in a real game setting, will help them and help us make the evaluations," Engram said.
Ben Mason's Biggest Learning Curve Is With NFL Physicality
Mason is another interesting player in the Ravens' tight end competition because he's more of a fullback at this point.
Engram said Mason's biggest obstacle right now isn't the transition from Michigan's offense to the Ravens' complex scheme, but rather the different level of physicality in the NFL.
Mason mauled college defenders. In the NFL, going against rugged players such as Pernell McPhee, for example, is another story.
"Intellectually, he's a very smart football player," Engram said. "I think there is a learning curve with the physicality, with how we want the techniques done and with some of the guys that he's going against. These are pros that have been in the league for a long time. So, there's a learning curve, but I think he's handling it well.
"He's a worker, and I've seen progression, especially when you get the pads on. He's a guy that, part of his game is physicality, so he's not going to look the same way running around in his shorts as he will in shoulder pads. So, I'm happy we got him, I'm excited about how he's progressing, and the trick is just to keep growing and keep getting better as we approach the season."
Anthony Levine Imparts a Decade of Wisdom on Young Players
There are only two players who have been with the Ravens for more consecutive seasons than Anthony Levine Sr.: punter Sam Koch and cornerback Jimmy Smith.
The Ravens re-signed Levine to a one-year contract this offseason, keeping him in the fold as a versatile defender, special teams anchor and team leader. Although Levine isn't one of the team's biggest stars, his voice carries a lot of weight with younger players.
"I've always been a guy trying to bring other guys along just doing the things that I've done and seeing other guys do it," Levine said. "Watching the other guys do it when I was younger and watching the Corey Graham's, the Terrell Suggs', watching Sam Koch, watching Jimmy [Smith] … Just coming in and seeing guys that were Ravens teaching other guys how to be a Raven, it just kind of happened. So, I don't know when it really happened; it just happened."
Levine's words can carry additional weight on a day like Wednesday, when there were 21 players missing from a hot padded practice.
The Ravens have hit the cliché "dog days" of training camp, and being a player that had a streak of 117 consecutive games played gives Levine has been through a lot of tough practices and games when he dealt with injuries. Levine said he got "really emotional" about not being able to play that Week 6 game in Philadelphia last year.
"I know there are going to be those long days. Your body is going to ache, but at the end of the day, you have to push through it. That's what makes you a Raven," Levine said. "That's how you overcome that. When you have days like today, everybody is hurting. But that's when, as a younger guy, you have to take the next step forward."