Tony Jefferson likes being in the middle of the action.
Baltimore’s safety seeks out contact, and he’s earned a well-deserved reputation as a hard hitter during his first five NFL seasons. Jefferson showed off those skills at times last year, but as he prepares for his second season with the Ravens, he’s eager to embrace the aggressive mindset new Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale has employed.
“Obviously, we don’t want to be any sit-back defense; we want to be aggressive, so, that fits me, and I think that’s going to help me improve my game a lot,” Jefferson said Wednesday as the Ravens arrived for the start of training camp.
Jefferson was one of Baltimore’s prized free-agent additions last year, signing a four-year deal reportedly worth $34 million. He started every game and finished the year with 79 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one interception.
But during his first season with the Ravens, Jefferson didn’t spend as much time near the line of scrimmage as he had in his time with the Arizona Cardinals. He was used more on the back end of the defense running with tight ends and receivers in coverage.
That could change this year.
“I like playing closer to the line of scrimmage. But at the end of the day, I’m a safety, so I’ve got to be able to play back wherever I need to be,” Jefferson said. “Last year, it was the first time I really had to do some of that stuff, so it was a learning experience for me, but that’s behind me. I worked on it, I got better. But yeah, it’s going to be fun.”
The Ravens want their safeties to have the flexibility to play deep in coverage and at the line of scrimmage. Jefferson and fellow veteran Eric Weddle both have that ability, and the Ravens used them interchangeably at times last year.
Baltimore doesn’t want to become predictable with how the safeties are used, and Jefferson stressed that he’s not going to only roam the line of scrimmage.
“I have to be able to do all of that. It’s part of being a safety in the league,” Jefferson said. “You don’t want to be called in at one spot. You don’t want to be a ‘line of scrimmage-type safety,’ or whatever. I know I can do it all. They do, too. It just took added experience a little bit.”
Jefferson is one of several veteran players who have praised Martindale for the changes he’s brought to the defense after taking over for Dean Pees this offseason. Both Jefferson and Weddle have talked about the freedom that Martindale gives the players, and how that will benefit the group.
“Wink knows me; he knows what I like to do,” Jefferson said. “He knows where to put me, and I think that’s going to be able to heighten my game this year. Play your guys to their strengths, and Wink does a good job of doing that, giving us a lot of freedom to be able to be ourselves, and I think that’s going to help a lot of guys just to be able to let loose.”