RAVENS ROSTER OVERVIEW & PRESEASON GRADES: SECONDARY

Battle Plans RAVENS ROSTER OVERVIEW & PRESEASON GRADES: SECONDARY

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Leading up to the start of training camp, 24×7 will preview the 2007 Baltimore Ravens position-by-position. Today we will analyze the secondary.
 
Despite yielding the lowest completion percentage, securing the most interceptions and ranking sixth overall against the pass a year ago, this is the most scrutinized defensive unit on the team.
 
For as many plays as the back-end stopped or made, they also gave up some too. The corners and safeties gave up nearly seven yards per attempt, and several long TD scores.
 
The numbers reflect a feast or famine approach. However, if one digs beneath the surface, he would find a number of mistakes occurred due to miscommunication and not simply because the players took too many chances. In addition, this is a secondary that plays behind one of the most aggressive fronts in the league; logically, there were enough instances when the blitz failed and the pass defenders were unable to hold up for too long in single coverage.
 
Practically the entire unit returns intact. Continuity should equal less miscommunication breakdowns. The litmus test for this group is whether they can duplicate as many game changing turnovers as they created a year ago.
 
Starter(s): Aside from his banner season in ‘03, last season may have been Chris McAlister’s best. The nine-year pro picked off six passes and returned two for scores, including a crucial touchdown score against Buffalo in the season finale. 
 
When McAlister has his head in the game, he is perhaps the best man-to-man cover corner in the NFL. He is physical, tough and will not give up on a play. Even if McAlister loses a step in coverage, he is usually able to make up the difference and break on the ball in time.
 
What makes McAlister invaluable is his ability to defend the run. He is always willing to stick his nose in the dirt to stop a ball carrier.
 
Playing opposite of McAlister is an unenviable task, but that is Samari Rolle’s role (no pun intended) in the defense. The former Titan had a rough first-half of the season before his play leveled off in the second-half.
 
In single coverage, Rolle struggled to keep receivers from getting by him, and he lacked the ability to recover. More often than not, a slight hesitation or misstep by Rolle would result in a wideout being about four or five steps in front of the former Pro Bowl performer.

Rolle played better when he was off the line. However, in order for Rex Ryan’s defense to work properly, Rolle will need to get back to playing tighter cover instead of giving up a cushion underneath.
 
What should help Rolle is more reliable play from All-Pro Ed Reed. Reed remains the best center fielder in the game, but there were times when he left his landmark to cover another part of the field or to break on the ball, when he should have stayed in a help position instead.
More times than not though, Reed does take the right chances in coverage. He has a knack for making timely pass deflections. If the ball is within his grasp, Reed will find a way to take possession of it.
 
Reed is a more dynamic defender when he gets the chance to move all over the field, and he should have more of an opportunity this season, given the improvement of Dawan Landry’s coverage skills. While Landry is more of an in-the-box defender, he proved a year ago that he could handle playing deep. The former fifth-round pick was rarely influenced by play-fakes and stayed true to his coverage assignments.
 
As a physical lunch-pail defender who invites collisions, Landry serves as the perfect complement to Reed. 
 
Backups: It was not a coincidence that the secondary was at its worst in the three games — against Carolina, New Orleans and Cincinnati — that Corey Ivy missed due to a neck injury. Ivy is among the top nickel defenders in the league.
Although he lacks ideal size, Ivy is a scrappy player who uses his hands and crisp footwork to stay on top of intermediate routes. Ivy is also a prime threat to blitz from the slot position on third-down.
 
Behind Ivy is a stable of young corners looking to climb the depth chart.
 
Ronnie Prude had a strong rookie campaign as the dime back last season. Although Prude is not the swiftest corner, he has solid instincts and technique. Whether he will amount to be more than a backup is questionable, given that Prude may have trouble defending vertical routes.
 
David Pittman has the biggest upside of anyone from this group. He is a fluid athlete with good speed, range and instincts.
 
Backups Evan Oglesby and Derrick Martin also figure to be in the mix to earn playing time during the season.
 
At safety, the team has a dependable role player in Gerome Sapp. Sapp will likely be more involved in coverage, when the team uses its triple safety packages. However, identifying a solid strong-side backup to Landry is a need. Rookies Donnie Johnson and Bobby Blackshire will get a chance to crack the roster.
 
Grade: A
 
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Dev Panchwagh

About Dev Panchwagh

Dev Panchwagh is a versatile analyst who breaks down the Xs and Os of the game and has been a columnist/analyst for Ravens24x7.com since the summer of 2004. In his regular season column Battle Plans, Dev highlights the Ravens' keys to success against each upcoming opponent. Dev started modestly as a sports journalist, but his contributions to sports talk radio were noticed, leading to duties as a regular columnist for the Scouts.com network before joining RSR.  It would be very difficult to find his rare combination of youthfulness, knowledge and insight in all facets of football anywhere else.  Fortunately, Dev brings it here each and every week.  More from Dev Panchwagh

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