Heading into the first practice of training camp, BaltimoreRavens.com will offer previews of each position, focusing on who will be fighting for playing time. Today, the cornerbacks take the spotlight.
With Pro Bowlers Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle handling the starting cornerback duties in Baltimore for the past three years, the Ravens looked outside the organization to create a fierce competition at nickel back.
By adding Fabian Washington through a draft-day trade with the Oakland Raiders and signing Frank Walker as a free agent (Green Bay) this offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome and Co. ensured a close training camp battle among a crowded group of cornerbacks.
And while it is still too early to judge how the depth chart will stack up, the Ravens have seen enough from Washington and Walker to notice their big-game experience and toughness.
Washington was selected 23rd overall in the 2005 draft, but the Ravens picked him up this year for only a fourth-rounder after Oakland signed Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall in March. Throughout Washington's four-year career, he started 28 contests.
Walker, a sixth-round pick of the New York Giants in 2003, saw seven starts as a rookie, but never made it back to the first string.
"You've got two guys that have gotten it done," said defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "Obviously, when you add those guys, we can play our defense the way we want to and that's to get after people and be more aggressive.
"Last year, when you look at it, we weren't nearly as physical and aggressive as we normally are, and we'll be allowed to do that regardless of having an injury here or there."
The new duo joins a group of young prospects that includes former draft picks David Pittman and Derrick Martin, along with former undrafted free agent Ronnie Prude and incumbent nickel Corey Ivy. Newsome also brought in Lenny Walls, a rangy defender that has played in 64 career games.
Washington, Walker and Ivy split the most snaps as starters during voluntary minicamp practices, which McAlister and Rolle sat out.
When McAlister and Rolle were on campus for Baltimore's only mandatory camp, each got a shot as the third corner, with Rolle typically moving inside to the slot.
However, as Washington and Walker compete against their fellow cornerbacks, they are approaching the situation with slightly different motivations.
Washington is looking to redeem himself after the Raiders took away his starting status in favor of Stanford Routt following two games last season. Even though he was disappointed with his demotion, Washington could recognize why, recalling a Week 2 matchup with the Denver Broncos.
"They said it was my tackling," Washington remembered. "That game, I stunk it up big-time in tackles. If that was their reason for benching me, then so be it.
"I also know that I definitely wasn't playing my best ball at the time. I was worried about different stuff other than football. Now, I'm so focused on football that I have something to prove."
Walker is driven by an admitted chip on his shoulder that stems from a pedigree at tiny Division II Tuskegee University and being drafted in the sixth round.
"I feel like I need to outwork everybody else who comes out of a Division I school," he said. "Coming from a small school like I did, you really need to succeed to get people at the NFL level to notice you."
Now, both Walker and Washington are hoping they can catch the eye of their Ravens coaches, many of whom are also new additions to the team.
Here is a look at the cornerbacks on the Ravens' roster (in no particular order):
2007:The three-time Pro Bowler was limited by injuries, missing eight games due to a hurt knee. He posted 23 tackles, 10 passes defensed and one interception before landing on Injured Reserve Dec. 12.
Forecast:Coming back with a clean bill of health should work wonders for the 31-year-old, who still is one of the elite corners in the NFL. He was on-hand for the Ravens' mandatory minicamp and seemed fluid on the field, as if the knee wasn't bothering him.
2007:A battle with epilepsy and a shoulder injury hampered Rolle's 2007 campaign, where he only played in six contests. He tallied 25 stops and an interception in those games. Rolle came out publicly with news of his epilepsy illness midway through the season, vowing to become an advocate for the disease. For his efforts, Rolle won the 2007 Ed Block Courage Award.
Forecast:This is a big year for Rolle, who has been questioned by many pundits in recent years. Now that he has his epilepsy under control and has had a rejuvenating offseason, Rolle said he's feeling great. He will likely begin camp starting opposite McAlister, but still needs to hold his own to retain that spot.
2007:As a member of the Oakland Raiders, Washington saw action in 15 games, including three starts. He recorded 36 tackles, nine passes defensed and an interception.
Forecast:Washington is hoping to prove his mettle as a former first-round draft pick and will be given a chance to fight for a first-string spot. The Ravens hope he can not only push Rolle, but also raise the level of competition among the entire position group.
2007:Walker played in 12 games as a member of the Green Bay Packers, netting 10 tackles. He made his biggest impact on special teams, however, totaling 12 special teams stops as a gritty gunner. The six-year veteran even underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 18, but returned to the field shortly thereafter.
Forecast:Walker brings experience and tenacity to the cornerbacks meeting room, where he is eager to get the job done on special teams and from scrimmage. He will hope to stand out among a crowded set of corners contending for the nickel back.
2007:Ivy was a vital backup last year, filling in for both Rolle and McAlister. The eight-year veteran started a career-high 13 games, posting personal bests in tackles (63), passes defensed (16) and sacks (three). He also grabbed one interception and forced a fumble.
Forecast:The fact that the Ravens went after Washington, Walker and Walls means that they are looking for a newfound spark. But, Ivy's familiarity with Ryan and special teams ability make him a valuable commodity. He is incredibly tenacious, so he will definitely be in the hunt.
2007:The former sixth-round draft pick played in all 16 games last year, even starting three. He was prolific on special teams, posting 17 special teams stops. From scrimmage, Martin had 26 tackles and two interceptions. In his second-career start (Week 10 vs. Cincinnati), he notched six solo stops.
Forecast:A tenacious worker, Martin is certainly in the mix for nickel back, but an offseason citation for marijuana possession at the Cleveland Airport may have tarnished his chances slightly among the other candidates. He needs to put that issue behind him and show his worth on the field.
2007:In 15 games, Prude put up a respectable eight special teams tackles and only six tackles in limited action from scrimmage.
Forecast:Prude must have a stellar preseason to make the active roster, but his youth and special teams potential could serve to his advantage.
2007:Pittman saw action in eight games, starting in the season finale against Pittsburgh, where he led all defensive backs with seven stops, three passes defensed and two interceptions.
Forecast:Baltimore's third-round pick in 2006 dealt with a foot injury for much of the offseason, so he has all of training camp to show that he's worth his draft status, especially at cornerback.
2007:Walls saw action in five games for the St. Louis Rams, including three starts, before being released on Oct. 12. He finished the year with nine tackles (eight solo) and three passes defensed.
Forecast:At 6-foot-4, 197 pounds, Walls is an intriguing prospect. He signed with the Ravens on May 20, so he still has some work to do familiarizing himself with the playbook.