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Why Tony Jefferson And Eric Weddle Can Be The NFL's Best Safety Duo


After the Ravens paired Tony Jefferson with returning Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, many pundits handed over the "best safety duo" in the league distinction to Baltimore.

Jefferson certainly isn't shying away from it.

"100 percent. Me and Eric can do anything," he said in his first one-on-one interview.

But the question some pundits have is how that will be accomplished, as they have pointed out that both Weddle and Jefferson are more in the strong safety mold.

The Ravens don't get caught up in labels with their safeties. Strong safety, free safety … what's the difference? With the addition of Jefferson to the defensive backfield, Baltimore's safeties can now play what they preach – with no classifications or limitations.

General Manager Ozzie Newsome said the Ravens highly valued Jefferson's ability to play in man coverage, support the run and have range in the back end of the defense.

"We just feel like the skills that he and Eric both have can present problems for upcoming offenses," Newsome said. "They can do multiple things and do not have to be pigeon-holed into a certain role."

The Ravens converted cornerback Lardarius Webb to safety last year. Webb is 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds. While he was willing to throw his smaller frame around, the Ravens mainly preferred to keep him patrolling on the back end of the defense.

That left Weddle playing a lot near the line of scrimmage, as well as lining up against opposing tight ends and other players in coverage. It also meant he didn't do as much pre-snap roaming and freelancing, which is a major part of his game.

Jefferson is more accustomed to matching up against opponents' offensive weapons, which should help free up Weddle. Conversely, they could reverse roles at any given time.

"For a quarterback, if you look at that, that's trouble," Jefferson said. "You don't know what the guy's going to do. We're very interchangeable. I think that's going to help the defense be more sporadic and do more things."

The knock on Jefferson is that he hasn't been a dynamic playmaker. He has two career interceptions and six forced fumbles.

"I understand people say we're strong safeties," Jefferson said. "I can definitely play a free if I have to. I was just not asked to. Me and Eric can definitely play the free safety role at a very high level. Both of us."

Weddle did well when given the chance to play centerfielder last season. He posted a career-high 13 passes defensed and added four interceptions, the most he's had since 2011. Weddle would have had more picks had he not dropped a couple easy ones.

Both players are magnets to the ball and the action. Jefferson has averaged 84 tackles per year over the past three seasons, despite not being a full-time starter until last year. Jefferson is also a dynamic blitzer, so he can bring more pressure from more angles.

"He was just all over the field," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

"When a guy can line up here (points to one side of the room) and show a blitz and run over there (points to other side of the room) and get into coverage and come back down from deep and run a blitz and penetrate and make a play in the backfield, you know he knows what he is doing."

When the Ravens kick off their 2017 season, expect to see two vocal, ranging safeties on the back end. Jefferson was asked what he wants fans to see when he steps on to the field for the first time.

"I don't know what I want them to see, but they're going to see a very physical guy," he said. "I love the game, I have a huge passion for this game and I want to win."

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