Ravens rookie safety Terrence Brooks says he constantly hears how he and fellow rookie defenders C.J. Mosley and Timmy Jernigan are "the future."
After Saturday's performance in the Ravens' third preseason game, they look more like the present.
Mosley had his first NFL interception, which he grabbed off a deflected pass by veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith. Jernigan and Brooks each notched their first sacks, both in hot pursuit of speedy Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
In action that most closely resembles the regular season, the rookies made a statement.
"They've brought us in here for a reason, so we want to make sure they don't regret that decision," Brooks said.
Mosley, the first-round pick, has started each preseason game, further proof that he'll be the Ravens' first defensive rookie to start immediately since Haloti Ngata in 2006.
He made two tackles on Saturday, which was the first time this preseason that Mosley hasn't led the team in tackles. But Mosley made his impact in pass coverage this time.
On the first play of the second half, he and veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith dropped back in coverage when Griffin tried to dump a pass off underneath to running back Alfred Morris. Smith reached around and got his hand on the ball. It popped into the air and Mosley was in the right place, coming in to scoop up the pass.
Mosley scampered for the end zone and tossed Griffin to the ground with a stiff arm.
"It's all about getting more and more comfortable with the system," Mosley said. "The third preseason game means a lot more than the others. For me, it's all about putting the pieces together, making plays and making adjustments. I'm counting the days getting ready for this first game."
Jernigan got his sack in the second quarter. Mosley came on a blitz up the middle, which flushed Griffin out towards the sideline despite the Redskins maximum protection.
Jernigan got off his block and scampered to the sideline. Despite being a 300-pound man, Jernigan was fast enough to not let Griffin turn the corner. It was the first sack, and tackle, for Jernigan so far this preseason.
"I'd definitely say it's one of my better games," Jernigan said. "After going back and looking at the previous two games, I was looking at little things I could have done different as far as getting to the quarterback. I was doing great power moves, getting in the backfield, but I wasn't finishing the play. So, that was definitely my emphasis this week, finishing the play."
Brooks has perhaps made the biggest leap of any of the three rookies since he first showed up to rookie minicamp.
He spent all of the organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp working with the second- and third-team defenses, but has worked with the first-team defense more lately, especially with the injuries at cornerback.
Brooks' speed was on display against the Redskins. He finished with three tackles.
Washington was threatening to score a touchdown on its first drive. On third down, Griffin scrambled to his right and Brooks left his man to Matt Elam, who lined up at nickel on the play and dropped into zone coverage. Brooks took off like a rocket at Griffin and tripped him up 4 yards in the backfield. The sack forced a Redskins field goal.
"That's just going after the ball and being hungry for the ball," Brooks said. "He tried to outrun me and I pride myself on being fast and not letting people do that. I just had to go make a play."
Harbaugh said Brooks was stalled earlier in camp in his learning, but has made big strides in the mental part of the game, which is the biggest challenge for a rookie safety. Safety is one position where it's difficult to make a quick impact, and Harbaugh said Brooks' rapid progress is actually kind of surprising.
"Terrence has really made a move in the last week or so; he's playing faster," Harbaugh said. "I think the light came on maybe two weeks ago football-wise, and now it's really starting to show up in the way he's playing. That gets me fired up."
But with all three rookies, there's still a ways to go and they realize that.
"You've never arrived," Brooks said. "This is good for my confidence and showing people what I can do. But I'm still not satisfied with the way I played. I have to go out there and make all my tackles, know all my assignments and just be more comfortable. You can tell I'm making strides with this defense. I just have to keep it going."