Offseason practices aren't the best time to judge a secondary.
Contact isn't permitted and there isn't much of a pass rush to make quarterbacks feel* *uncomfortable picking apart a defensive backfield. As Head Coach John Harbaugh said, "the rules don't favor the defensive backs."
Still, Harbaugh and returning members from last year's secondary are liking what they see, and have confidence in a rebound 2015 season.
"I'm pleased," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "I don't want to get ahead of myself, but [I am] pretty excited about our secondary right now."
The Ravens gave up 249 passing yards per game last season, tied for ninth most in the league. They had 11 interceptions, tied for the seventh fewest. In the end, the secondary was largely the reason for the Ravens' demise as New England quarterback Tom Brady threw for 367 yards in the divisional playoffs, leading the Patriots back from two 14-point deficits.
General Manager Ozzie Newsome added some pieces to the unit this year, signing free safety Kendrick Lewis and released former Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington. Both have starting experience and are expected to take on big roles.
Perhaps most importantly, the Ravens are expecting their two starting cornerbacks to return healthy. Lardarius Webb finished last year on a high note and Jimmy Smith, fresh off a contract extension, is back on the field after a season-ending foot injury.
"It feels good just to be able to run around and [not] have any pain," Webb said. "But right now, we're just working on the secondary. Just putting the work in to get us back to where we're supposed to be."
The Ravens secondary ranked 12th in the league in 2013, 17th in 2012 and fourth in 2011. They fell out of the top 10 just once from 2003 to 2009.
Injuries decimated last year's unit. Webb missed essentially the first four games due to a lingering back issue. Smith was done by midseason. Nickel cornerback Asa Jackson (knee) played in just seven games before being lost for the rest of the year. Tramain Jacobs, Danny Gorrer and Aaron Ross also suffered season-ending injuries.
The Ravens limped into New England with Rashaan Melvin, a player they had just weeks earlier signed off Tampa Bay's practice squad, starting on the outside. They had converted safeties to cornerbacks.
"Seeing what we did last year with an unhealthy secondary, pretty much everybody is coming back this year healthy, so the sky's the limit for us this year," said safety Will Hill.
"We really think we can be one of the top secondaries in the league and one of the best defenses in the league. That's motivation right there."
Webb said he's stressing getting more turnovers. The Ravens' leading defenders in interceptions last year were linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata with two each. The secondary combined to pick off quarterbacks just six times.
"If we can just get some turnovers, be top-5 in turnovers, then we can go a long way," Webb said. "We just need to get some takeaways.
"Let's get the ball back to Joe Flacco and let him do his thing. You know Joe's got all the pieces around him. Joe is an awesome quarterback, so if we can just give him extra possessions, it's going to be a big year."
Melvin said he's sensed a lot of confidence from the group, even outside of practice. It's a necessary trait for members of the secondary to have in the NFL, and it's being echoed at the top too.
During Organized Team Activities, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said he has "no doubt" the secondary will be better in 2015.
"Just looking at everybody's mindset and attitudes walking in and out of the locker room, going to meetings, stepping out there on the football field, it's second to none," Melvin said.