OWINGS MILLS – In a nod to how rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb is progressing and an indication about how veteran defensive backs are regressing, he’s in line for increased playing time in the Baltimore Ravens’ nickel package.
It’s a development that’s a credit to how Webb handled limited action during a 33-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and his performance during practice sessions.
The third-round draft pick from Nicholls State has already assumed the kickoff return job on a full-time basis.
Now, he’s done enough to impress the coaching staff that he’s emerging as a contributor on defense.
"We need him to do that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "I think Lardarius Webb continues to earn more playing time based on the way he’s playing. We gave him more defensive snaps, and he played well in those snaps.
"When you play well no matter who you are, your role expands and you get to a point where you find out where a guy needs to get better. You try to work him into more opportunities."
Webb didn’t register any statistics against the Vikings. And he wasn’t picked on by Brett Favre, either.
The former Division I-AA All-American selection is aggressive and fast with a 40-yard dash time of 4.35 seconds.
"I’m ready," he said. "I’m still learning, getting better by the day. Each week, I’m learning more from these guys about this defense.
"Ed Reed, a guy I look up to, he’s teaching me the importance of reading the defense and knowing the offense. I’m young. I’m trying to learn everything possible I can learn from these guys."
On kickoff returns, Webb has supplanted veteran Chris Carr.
He returned seven kickoffs for 165 yards, including a long return of 40 yards.
For the season, Webb has averaged 26.1 yards on 10 returns.
His approach is simple: run hard and run north-south.
"I’m just being me," Webb said. "That’s how I run the ball. When I see a hole, I’m going to hit it. If they keep making holes for me, I’m going to keep hitting it and try to make a big play for my team."
Carr could be in danger of losing his grip on the punt return job, too, after signing a two-year, $5 million contract this offseason.
He looked indecisive against the Vikings, returning two punts for one yard.
"The punt returns are a little tougher because getting a returnable ball on punt returns is so important," Harbaugh said. "We really had some short punts. He’d probably tell you he could go up and catch one of those short ones on a fair catch, the one that bounced and rolled in the dome. So, we’ve got to get him some returnable opportunities and see what happens."
Webb averaged 17.1 yards per punt return as a senior last season.
For now, he’s going to concentrate on kickoff returns and nickel back duties.
"I’m getting comfortable," he said. "I’m going to continue to do what I do. I’ll do my part."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.