OWINGS MILLS — Lardarius Webb uncoiled his athletic frame in a natural fast-twitch motion, immediately halting his backpedal and redirecting his energy toward the out pattern developing in front of him.
In an instant, the Baltimore Ravens’ rookie defensive back gained ground on the wide receiver and charged toward the sailing pass to bat it harmlessly down outside the hash marks.
"I just let my instincts take over," Webb said Tuesday during the Ravens’ rookie minicamp. "I love the game. I love to play football. I just want to use my ability to help this team win and make some plays. I’m looking to compete.
"I want to play right away, and I’m doing whatever I can to prepare. There’s not going to be any vacation. I’m going to keep pushing and working hard to be the best that I can be. I’m just excited to be here and glad that the team has confidence in me."
Because of Webb’s rare combination of speed, quickness and instincts, the Ravens drafted him out of tiny Nicholls State, a Division I-AA school in Louisiana.
And there were a few extra reasons why the Ravens invested a third-round draft pick in Webb. It’s because of his capacity to line up at cornerback or safety as well as his ability to return kicks.
His versatility is uncommon.
Now that Webb has recovered from a strained hamstring incurred during the first minicamp, he’s on track to contribute as a potential nickel back as well as inject an occasional spark into the return game in relief of Chris Carr.
"Webb is doing a nice job," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He showed a lot of quickness and has a good understanding of the defense for a rookie. The fact that he plays safety and corner is going to be helpful throughout his career, but it’s going to help us in camp, too."
Webb’s trademark versatility offers a welcome dilemma for the coaching staff.
What’s the best position to utilize Webb considering that Ed Reed and Dawan Landry are established as the starting safeties and the Ravens appear set at cornerback with veterans Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington and Samari Rolle?
"The fact that he can play both positions was a real positive when we drafted him," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "The thing you have to decide now is, ‘Where can he get the most work to make him the best he can be?’ He’s so flexible to be able to be a corner and he has played safety and special teams. All of those things are real positives for him."
A two-time Division I-AA All-American selection, Webb transferred from Southern Mississippi after running afoul of team rules and being dismissed from the team.
For his career, Webb intercepted seven passes, registering 179 tackles, three sacks and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. Last season, he recovered two fumbles, forced another and picked off two passes while notching 50 solo tackles.
During minicamps, Webb has lined up at cornerback and safety and has also guarded receivers in the slot as a nickel back.
Webb’s clear preference, though, is to eventually play cornerback full-time.
At 5-foot-10, 179 pounds with 4.35 speed in the 40-yard dash, he’s best suited to play on the outside.
"I see myself as a cornerback who can also play safety," Webb said. "Cornerback feels like home to me. Because of my size, that’s where I should play most of the time. Wherever the team needs me to play, I’m happy to do it. I just want to get on the field and prove myself."
Since being drafted in April, Webb has spent a lot of time asking Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis questions, trying to pick their brains for any clues that might help him on and off the field. The most important thing Webb has learned already is how critical extra preparation can be in order to trigger his full potential.
"I’m learning how to see the game from Ray and Ed, how to let plays come to you by anticipating and figuring out what the offense is trying to do," Webb said. "I’m excited about everything. I can’t wait for the season to start. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I’m getting there."
For the Ravens, another plus about Webb is his infectious enthusiasm. Even during routine plays and drills, Webb is wearing a big smile on his face.
"When you walk out of the door and you love the game, you can’t hide that," Mattison said. "He’s fired up about playing football. You can always see that on the field."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.