ST. LOUIS — Jim Leonhard is rapidly growing accustomed to walking in the footsteps of Baltimore Ravens star free safety Ed Reed.
For the third consecutive game, Leonhard replaced the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the starting lineup as the Ravens took on the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night at the Edward Jones Dome. Leonhard recorded a team-high seven tackles during the first half.
With each passing week as Reed continues to be sidelined with a left shoulder injury that involves nerve issues, the odds keep increasing that Leonhard might start the Ravens’ season-opener Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Those are big shoes to fill, obviously,” Leonhard acknowledged. “Ed’s probably the best safety in the league. I just go out there and play hard, and the opportunity is going to be there to make plays.
“The main thing is just to be consistent. Everything is going to fall where it is, and I just need to continue to learn and get better.”
Undersized at 5-foot-8, 186 pounds, Leonhard is used to being underestimated. However, the Ravens have been extremely pleased with his work since signing him this spring when the Buffalo Bills declined to retain him with a $927,000 restricted free agent tender.
"Oh, he’s done very well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s had a heck of a camp. He’s proved himself as a player. He plays all the phases of special teams as well, and we’re excited to have him on our team.”
Entering the St. Louis game, Leonhard had registered four tackles and one pass deflection and was tied for the most special-teams tackles with rookie safety Haruki Nakamura with three stops in kick coverage.
“This has been a lot of significant time for me to get out on the field,” Leonhard said. “It feels good to show you belong.
“The more you’re on the field, the more comfortable you feel. You try to let it all go and make plays instead of just trying not to make mistakes.”
A former walk-on at Wisconsin who earned a scholarship and finished with 21 career interceptions as he was named All-Big Ten Conference and an academic All-American, Leonhard started a career-high six games in Buffalo last season.
He registered a career-high 51 tackles and two interceptions.
Leonhard, 25, is entering his fourth season and has helped mentor Nakamura and fellow rookie draft pick Tom Zbikowski.
“Jim is a veteran and he has got that knowledge of the game,” Nakamura said. “That really helps us out a lot.
“If we make a mistake, he’s the first one to tell us what we did wrong and how to correct it. You can see the advantage of having him here.”
INJURY REPORT: Besides quarterback Troy Smith being a late scratch due to a viral illness that plagued him for the past two days with rookie Joe Flacco getting an unexpected first NFL start, the Ravens were without several other players.
Quarterback Kyle Boller’s right shoulder is bothering him after the big hit he took last week against the Minnesota Vikings. Boller was in uniform, though.
Running back Willis McGahee (left knee) was out and was replaced by rookie Ray Rice for the third consecutive game. Rice isn’t 100 percent, though, due to a sore hamstring.
Offensive tackle Jared Gaither (right ankle) was replaced by Chad Slaughter at left tackle.
Daniel Wilcox, who underwent offseason toe surgery, started at tight end in place of Todd Heap (right calf). It was Wilcox’s first game of the preseason since being activated from the physically unable to perform list.
Heap will likely be held out until the regular season to be sure his legs are under him.
Offensive tackle Adam Terry started and played nearly the entire first half in his first action of the preseason since spraining his left ankle early in training camp. He underwent offseason surgery on his left ankle.
With nose guard Kelly Gregg (left knee) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right medial collateral ligament) sidelined, J’Vonne Parker and Justin Bannan started upfront in their place.
Ngata practiced all week, but was held out for precautionary reasons.
Frank Walker got the start with Chris McAlister (right knee) being rested.
Cornerback Samari Rolle (left leg) made his preseason debut and was a game captain.
Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards was held out for undisclosed reasons.
Cornerback Derrick Martin (right shoulder), wide receiver Demetrius Williams (left Achilles’ tendon) and defensive tackle Kelly Talavou (dislocated shoulder) also didn’t play.