Safeties, the protectors of the fort, keepers of the gate – the last line of defense that often influences the flow and tempo of a game and the decision making of opposing quarterbacks. For over a decade Ed Reed provided the Ravens with back end insurance. Like a good neighbor, No. 20 was always there.
In 2014 the Ravens are counting on a relatively inexperienced group to provide insurance for Dean Pees’ defensive unit. Here’s a close look at the safety corps’ performance on Friday, an up and down day that highlighted aggressiveness and athleticism but also included big plays by the offense.
Matt Elam: Elam is the unquestioned leader of the back end and is constantly active shifting players in the right spot. What stood out on Friday was that Elam mostly played deep centerfield coverage. However, when the offense showed a run-heavy look, Elam became a box defender to give support against the run. More than his counterpart, Darian Stewart, Elam was the extra defender at the line-of-scrimmage. In coverage, Elam was aware of his positioning on the field, got to his landmarks, and appeared to have the right depth on his drops. One of his better plays was a pass break up underneath in which he diagnosed the play quickly and broke on the ball. In those instances, Elam’s downhill speed and nose for the football is clear to see.
Darian Stewart: When Elam shifted and took on single-high coverage responsibilities, Stewart became the underneath cover guy. He was more involved in single coverage against tight ends and receivers. As opposed to Elam, Stewart was more of the rover who would take on different players in coverage.
Jeromy Miles: Miles is a much better player moving forward than backward. He is built like a weakside linebacker and isn’t afraid to throw his body around. There were at least two instances in which he just jumped into a pile to play the run. However, he also tends to hesitate before breaking on the ball. His indecisiveness showed up a couple of times when he waited too long to make a move and was late on the play. When he didn’t hesitate, his aggressiveness and timing were much better. He was able to knock down an underneath pass during 11-on-11 drills in which he came over the top of the receiver.
Terrence Brooks: The rookie was more of a rover today, as he lined up in multiple positions. He handled deep coverage responsibilities as the single-high safety and also got involved as a slot nickel corner. Watching him defend receivers one-on-one is intriguing. You can see his footwork as a former cornerback. He is very fluid and moves well to stay with receivers. Other than a miscue against Michael Campanaro in deep coverage, he did a pretty good job handling his matchups.
Anthony Levine: Levine was mostly involved as the free safety in deep centerfield coverage. There wasn’t much action that came his way when he was in the lineup.
Will Hill: The size and the physical skills are there. He matched up a few times with Pitta one-on-one and did a good job using his length to close the space between him and the tight end. However, the newcomer struggled to react quickly to the ball in flight. He was often late and had a hard time flipping his hips to recover in coverage. On one play, Jacoby Jones was able to turn Hill inside-out and the former Giant was beaten badly downfield.
Omar Brown: Brown barely got much playing time ahead of the other safeties; instead he saw more reps at cornerback. This is a byproduct of the lack of depth at the corner position.
• Rookie defensive tackle A.J. Pataiali’I had a couple of nice plays today in which he was able to get into the backfield. His rip move was strong, as he used one arm to throw the opposing linemen to the side. He was also surprisingly quick working off the edge.
• Bernard Pierce was very aggressive in blitz pickup situations, and he was consistently able to win his matchups today.
• Terrell Suggs was back on the field and in his natural element. He looked great in run pursuit, with a quick burst at the line. He also had fun with the fans, asking “are you enjoying camp?” then following up, “glad someone is.”