Ravens Change Approach With Safety Rotation


For many years, the Ravens were a two-man operation at safety.

Ed Reed held down free safety for a decade, and then various strong safeties over the years played just about every defensive snap. Dawan Landry and Bernard Pollard both had their time on the job.

Those days of using just two safeties are gone now, as the Ravens have changed up their strategy in the secondary. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has been creative with his rotations, and the last two weeks he's mixed in five safeties into his defensive gameplan.

"The truth of it is we felt like, 'Hey, they all deserve a chance to play, rather than two guys, or three guys playing on every snap,'" Pees said. "We played them all, and we found little spots and little roles for them, and I thought they all contributed in their own way."

The Ravens started this season by having Matt Elam and Darian Stewart taking all the snaps on the back end of the defense.

But that approach was short-lived, as the Ravens wanted to get more defenders in the mix. Veteran Jeromy Miles and rookie Terrence Brooks have both seen reps on the back end of the defense, and Brynden Trawick has been used as a hard-hitting safety who can defend the run.

"It's different," Stewart said. "It makes everybody better and keeps everybody on point with what they have to do. I just feel like it makes us better as a team. If one of us were to go down, then the next person could easily come in and step up."

The rotation was most noticeable against the Colts Sunday. The Ravens would occasionally swap out both safeties for another pair based on the personnel Indianapolis had in the game.

Stewart (80 snaps) and Elam (55) still took the bulk of the reps, but Brooks (47), Miles (15) and Trawick (12) all had their chances on the field.

"We really felt like there are a lot of guys that have been playing well," Pees said. "I don't think there's a lot of separation in all the safeties. I think they're all fairly equal. They all have certain talents."

Another reason for the rotation is the development of Brooks, a rookie third-round pick who has seen his playing time increase in recent weeks. Against the Colts, the Ravens often had him playing the deep safety role that allows him to feature his speed and strong cover skills.

"Terrence is really coming on," Head Coach John Harbaguh said. "He's really getting around the ball. He's playing deep, and he's playing short really well – equally well. [It is] what we envisioned when we drafted him. So, you play well, you earn more time, and he's doing that."

The group will get even more crowded when Will Hill's suspension is over. He's eligible to return to practice after the Bucs game, and the Ravens could end up putting him on the 53-man roster if they think he's ready for game action.

Hill was considered one of the NFL's best free safeties last season with the New York Giants, but they cut him this offseason after he was suspended. The Ravens signed him during training camp, and he was able to practice during camp and play in the preseason.

"He has been in every meeting. He's very sharp – a football guy," Harbaugh said. "He's very determined to make good, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he takes advantage of this opportunity. He's a good player, and I think he can help us."

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