Jim Leonhard came to Baltimore this offseason with the hopes of refining his game under the tutelage of one of the best safeties in the league.
But, with Ed Reed sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury, the 5-foot-8, 186-pound Leonhard finds himself filling some pretty big shoes.
Leonhard will start in place of the 2004 NFL Defensive Most Valuable Player this Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons – and may remain at that position when the Ravens open the season with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Because Reed's shoulder hasn't allowed him to suit up in pads for any preseason game, Leonhard has manned the Ravens' secondary for the past three weeks.
The former rookie free agent from Wisconsin is currently tied for third on the team with 13 preseason tackles, has two passes defensed and even added three special teams stops.
"I've played pretty well, but just like in any game, there are a few plays you wish you could have back and do over," Leonhard said. "Overall, I'm pleased with the way I've played in these few games.
And Leonhard has only steadily improved. Last week against the St. Louis Rams, he tallied a game-high nine tackles and one pass defensed, while returning a punt 42 yards deep in enemy territory.
"I've gotten a lot of reps because we've had a lot of players go down with injuries," he explained. "It's part of the game, but you have to step up."
Coming from the Buffalo Bills, where he spent three years and played in 38 games, Leonhard relishes the freedom coordinator Rex Ryan allows the defense. Other coaches may be wary of plugging a new guy in at one of the unit's most important positions, but Leonhard feels lucky to have Ryan's trust.
"It definitely gives me a lot of confidence," Leonhard said. "You have to love a coaching staff that can let you go in there and just says, 'Play.'
"They really just let you go out there and play football. I've never been in a system like this, where the coaches put it on the players."
The Ravens do boast a crowd at safety – even without Reed – after spending two draft picks on Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, not to mention starter Dawan Landry. Still, Reed's injury makes keeping five safeties on the roster more of a reality as the hours count down to Saturday's final roster cut.
Leonhard hope his admirable performance in place of a star like Reed speaks for itself.
"It's tough," Leonhard explained. "Everyone's nervous, and I've been in the position where I've been cut before. You're thinking, 'Did I do enough.'
"You just have to keep pushing through that and let the cards fall where they may."
The Ravens released undrafted free agent kicker Piotr Czech. The rookie from Wagner College was hoping to catch on as a kickoff specialist...In light of a tenuous quarterback situation, with Kyle Boller sidelined due to a shoulder injury and Troy Smith battling a viral illness, John Harbaugh could only chuckle when asked about the challenges of being a head coach. "Is it ever smooth? I mean, that's one thing that nobody ever promised with coaching football and being in the NFL. It's never smooth, it's never easy. It is exciting, it is challenging, and we can't wait for practice today."…The Ravens own eight preseason sacks, fourth most in the NFL, while their five interceptions tie for first.