The inevitable occurred this week when the Baltimore Ravens brought in some much needed competition at the cornerback position.
Up until this point, inexperienced corners Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson were the lone contenders to take over Corey Graham’s role as the third cornerback in nickel situations.
Even if one of the two ultimately become perfectly capable of taking on that role, it would have been a mistake to enter the season without giving them experienced competitors to face off with.
The Ravens did just that, signing veteran cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks, formerly of the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, respectively.
Ross, 31, was a regular in New York’s secondary for the first month of last season before a season-ending back injury, while Franks, 26, hardly touched the field on defense in 2013, mainly playing special teams.
At this stage in his career, Ross will probably only play on defense, as the soon-to-be 32-year old with a past history of injuries may not provide much value on special teams.
Franks on the other hand has age and special teams experience on his side, which may help his case for a roster spot.
If he can return to his pre-injury form, Ross can make the team based solely on his ability as a defensive back.
Last season, Ross had defensive snaps in three games. He played on both the left and right side of the defense, but he was always on the outside.
As a veteran given a second chance with his original team, Ross went up against the likes of Dez Bryant and Steve Smith. Overall, he played fairly well.
Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, Ross was thrown into the fire in the second half after Prince Amukamara left the game with a concussion.
Ross was left to handle Amukamara’s assignments, Cowboys receivers Terrance Williams and Bryant, providing mixed results.
At this stage in Ross’ career, speed isn’t his game, so when he goes up against downfield threats such as Williams, he must do everything right in order to compensate for the difference in speed between the two.
In this case, Williams takes advantage of the opportunity and exposes Ross soon after Ross enters the game.
Ross holds steady with Williams for the first 15 yards of the play, before Williams cuts toward the inside, as Ross follows.
This is easy pickings for Williams.
Once Ross bites inside, Williams has the second gear of speed to turn back upfield, and by the time Ross diagnoses the play, he has no hope of recovering.
Luckily for Ross, a safety was waiting over the top to take over.
For a player who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career and is on the wrong side of 30, double moves in which even the slightest bit of hesitation occurs on Ross’ part will prove to be lethal.
It’s a part of his game that will likely stick with him, especially after his back injury.
A quick move in which Ross had to react to the receiver while in recovery mode was on display two weeks later against the Carolina Panthers.
Isolated against Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell, Ross again bites on the first move.
Ross reacts to LaFell’s move to the outside and cuts in that direction, likely assuming he is running toward the sideline.
LaFell turns back upfield toward the end zone, and surprisingly, Ross recovers in time to match back up with LaFell.
The receiver has enough of a speed advantage on Ross, though, and is able to beat him to the end zone, even if the cushion is just a yard or two.
Reaction time and recovery weaken Ross’ game, but there are still plenty of positives to build on as he competes for a roster spot with the Ravens.
In the Dallas game, when matched up against Bryant, Ross had the ability to play more aggressive in coverage, as Bryant doesn’t present as much of a downfield threat as Williams.
On a quick curl, Ross successfully matches Bryant stride for stride into Bryant’s break toward the quarterback.
Ross plays physical with Bryant and stays on him throughout the play, making a play on the ball as it hits Bryant.
Pass interference wasn’t called on this play, although it probably could have been. Still, the physicality and confidence that Ross shows here is a good sight.
In the Carolina game, Ross faced a familiar name for Ravens fans, having various opportunities against Steve Smith throughout the game.
Smith is in the final stage of his career, but still has plenty of speed, and Ross was able to match up with him well.
Having the size advantage on Smith gave Ross the advantage on a post route run by Smith.
Downfield and making his break toward the middle, Smith is shadowed by Ross who matches Smith’s strides and has inside position.
A slightly underthrown ball puts Ross in position to sneak in front of Smith and bat it away.
In terms of ball skills, Ross still has the instincts to take advantage of balls thrown his way.
As in the two plays above, Ross reacts well when he can locate the ball and position himself on the wide receiver to defend the pass.
During another opportunity against the Panthers, Ross’ reaction time to the ball thrown his way provided a prime opportunity to make a play on the ball.
This time in off coverage, Ross has a heavy cushion on the receiver, which aids him in the deep passing game, but when in comes to short routes in front of him, his closing speed must be top notch.
On this play, that is the case.
The receiver is breaking out of his route back toward the quarterback as the ball is being thrown.
At this point in the play, Ross still has several yards to cover in a short time to make a play on the ball.
He does just that, cutting in front of the receiver to make the interception.
The sample size was small for Ross last season (157 snaps on defense), but in the three games in which he appeared on defense against the Cowboys, Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs before his year was cut short, Ross proved that he can still play even at this stage in his career.
Proceed with caution regarding Ross’ health as he has only played 16 games in a season once in his career (2011), but if healthy, Ross has a developed skill set to make the cut.
The cornerback race is wide open behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Don’t count out Ross in the battle for the nickel spot with Jackson, Brown and Franks.