The Ravens have two very good safeties in Ed Reed and Dawan Landry. Some would say they have the best duo in the NFL.
But, Reed hasn't been at many of the Ravens' voluntary minicamps this offseason, instead preferring to follow his typical routine of training in Miami. Because of Reed's absence, Landry has played alongside recent free agent signee Jim Leonhard with the first-string.
And because of Leonhard's temporary promotion, the Ravens have been able to clear room for rookie safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura to get the valuable repetitions fledgling players need.
"They've been doing good," said Landry of the young pair. "I've seen them improve over the course of minicamps. This defense isn't easy, and they have to work at it, but I think they will be OK."
Landry should know what they are going through.
When he joined the starting lineup before the 2006 campaign, Landry was only a few months removed from hearing his name called in the fifth round.
Turning in an All-Rookie Team performance that season, he started 14 contests and led all rookies with five interceptions (one went for a touchdown).
However, the Ravens are asking much less from Zbikowski and Nakamura. On draft day, Baltimore director of college scouting Eric DeCosta praised both of them for their special teams potential.
While at Notre Dame, Zbikowski, the second of three third-round picks (86th overall), was known for his nose for the football and big hits. The same could be said for Nakamura, who went in the sixth round (206th).
Both have experience returning punts, but it is that desire to knock out a ballcarrier by doing their best impressions of a heat-seeking missile that endears them to the Ravens.
"I think at safety we drafted two outstanding, smart, productive, tough safeties with a knack for making big plays," DeCosta noted. "[They are] very similar to our two starting safeties from the standpoint of instincts, making plays, interceptions, fumble recoveries and special teams impact."
Zbikowski, though, would love nothing more than to step off the sideline as a member of Baltimore's sixth-ranked unit from 2007. He's putting in the hours now to achieve that goal at some point in the future.
"That's what I'm working for," explained Zbikowski, who moonlighted as a professional boxer in college. "As a competitor, you always want to get on the field and play as much as possible. I've just got to get in the playbook and get up to speed with the rest of these guys on defense."
Despite playing for a defense that earned the nickname "Organized Chaos" while being led by coordinator Rex Ryan for the past three years, Nakamura asserts he is digesting the playbook well enough.
During minicamps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs), Ryan has held daily meetings with the entire defense, and his hands-on teaching style lends itself to coaching new players into his system quickly.
"He really is making us work and be accountable, but that is helping the young guys here pick up the defense," Nakamura said. "Some of the stuff we do here, with the movement and different assignments, definitely lets you know you're at the pro level."
Landry was there before, holding a large and possibly intimidating playbook with the expectations of starting next to Reed, the 2004 NFL Defensive MVP.
How did he do it?
"I just didn't let it get too tough for me," Landry simply said. "You have to really get in the playbook and don't be afraid to ask the veterans on the team for help. This is the time to learn and even make mistakes if you have to. Then take what you learned to training camp."
Considering how it worked out for Landry, the Ravens' two new rookie safeties should follow a similar blueprint.