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Ravens Fired Up About Secondary's Makeover, But Not Done Yet


Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh have made their defensive coaches quite happy so far in free agency.

The Ravens crossed off one of their main objectives in retaining nose tackle Brandon Williams, and have aggressively made over their secondary with the additions of safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr.

The secondary's improvement took center stage Monday with the introduction of Carr. Harbaugh and Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees were on either side of the newest cornerback, and Secondary Coach Chris Hewitt sat in the back of the auditorium.

"[Hewitt] looks like the cat that just ate the canary back there. He's fired up," Harbaugh joked.

"We feel like we can line up a secondary right now with very good football players – with two excellent corners on the edges, with an excellent young corner at nickel and two veteran safeties that know how to play the game. That is great news for the Ravens."

Baltimore's defense was near or at the top of the league for much of last season, but stumbled in the final four games after Jimmy Smith hurt his ankle in New England. That affected how they attacked the pass and run, and Baltimore finished No. 7 overall in total defense.

The Ravens know they have a lot of talent on defense, and believe Jefferson and Carr will help them take the next step to be the best in the league.

"We were so daggone close last year to being the top defense in the league, and we just did not finish," Pees said. "We need to finish, and I think we are adding the parts to finish the job."

Jefferson will give the Ravens more flexibility with their safeties. Both he and Eric Weddle can cover and handle the run, which will leave opponents guessing. Jefferson is very strong in the box and in blitzing quarterbacks.

The addition of Carr gives the Ravens another physical perimeter corner, and allows rising sophomore Tavon Young to flourish inside at nickel. Harbaugh praised Carr for being a "corner that will challenge receivers in critical situations and is able to make plays on the ball."

Seeing the addition of Jefferson, as well as the presence of Weddle, Jimmy Smith and Young, was part of why Carr signed with the Ravens. He said he took note of the emphasis the Ravens were putting on having top-notch players in the secondary.

"I think we have a special group here," Carr said. "I just hope I can come in and still be consistent, durable, make a lot of plays and we can have some incredible chemistry. We can do some great things this year."

But rest assured, Baltimore isn't done making moves in the secondary either. There's been talk about the Ravens using an early draft pick on a cornerback or safety, and they could still do so despite the free-agent additions.

"We were looking to bolster our secondary, and we have done that already through Tony Jefferson, and now through Brandon Carr," Harbaugh said. "We are not done doing that; I think Ozzie would tell you that we are going to keep working on that."

While the Ravens have a strong trio entering 2017 with Smith, Carr and Young, Baltimore is also looking for more talented youth at cornerback. The Ravens have learned they can never have too many corners, and they always have an eye on the future.

Carr signed a four-year deal, but there are reportedly team options after 2017. He carries a $3 million cap hit this season, but that jumps to $6.5 million next season and $7 million in the final two years. The Ravens hope Carr performs up to that pay scale, much like wide receiver Mike Wallace did in a similar situation last season, but his long-term future isn't set in stone.

Baltimore could find a long-term solution via the draft. It's just that Newsome, Harbaugh and the Ravens have now put themselves in a situation where they are not boxed into finding an immediate starter.

Pees said he texted Harbaugh immediately last week when he heard the Ravens signed Carr, saying it was a great addition. Now Pees joked that he'd like to see all seven draft picks go to defense.

"Hey, I'm a defensive coach," he said with a laugh. "John has done an incredible job."

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