The battle for the third cornerback job between Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown heated up just as much as the weather late Sunday afternoon. The two combatants shared snaps as the starting cornerback, working outside of the numbers during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. While Jackson has been more consistent and has displayed impressive cover skills, Brown has made a push the last two practices, and had arguably his best practice yesterday (despite being kicked out momentarily by head coach John Harbaugh).
Here is how the two players stacked up today:
One thing is clear from watching Brown consistently throughout camp: He is much better when he plays close to the line and gets his hands on the receiver. Today, there were a few times in which Brown was very physical with his press coverage, and it paid off, especially in red zone situations. He also did well in coverage when he had help over the top from a safety.
Conversely, in single coverage with no help, Brown was beaten soundly a couple of times.
His biggest misstep came against Steve Smith. Instead of pressing Smith at the line, Brown tried to turn and run, and the veteran was able to run right by him. Joe Flacco ended up connecting with Smith on a perfectly placed ball for a long touchdown strike. Brown gave up just enough space for Smith to run underneath the pass.
Brown did recover nicely against Smith on a later play in which he was able to strip the ball out of the former Panther’s hands. Smith was able to beat Brown off the line for a reception and turn up the field, but the third-year player chased Smith from behind to cause the turnover
The play was a good illustration of Brown’s mental toughness to keep battling. Still, Brown needs to do a better job of locating the football in flight and maintaining proper technique in his downfield coverage.
Like Brown, Jackson also had a couple of close encounters with Smith along the sidelines.
On a play that went toward the end zone, Smith used an array of moves to try to bait Jackson out of position, but the corner didn’t bite. He stayed stride-for-stride with the veteran and then cut off Smith’s path to the ball inside. Although the referee threw a flag on Jackson for initiating contact downfield, the contact was minimal at best and Jackson had outstanding coverage the whole way.
On another matchup against Smith, Jackson did a nice job of using the sideline to his advantage and closed in on an out pattern in which he gave up very little space. Overall, Jackson displayed much better footwork, change of direction, and short-area quickness to keep up with Smith than Brown.
However, Jackson was also beat downfield on a long touchdown score – this time it was against Marlon Brown.
Jackson attempted to get a jam on Brown at the line, but the second-receiver just powered through his hands and created space using his big body downfield. Brown’s shove caused Jackson to lose his momentum and he couldn’t recover in time to prevent the receiver from making the catch. The play was a prime example of a bigger receiver simply outmuscling a smaller DB for the ball.
Although he lost the physical battle on that play, Jackson did a nice job using his hands and stayed aggressive throughout today’s practice. He also had a great play earlier in the red zone in which he anticipated a route and broke on the ball for a diving interception.
Today’s Winner: Asa Jackson. Right now, Jackson is just playing with better confidence, consistency, and technique. He shows the ball skills you look for in a cover corner, and he’s not afraid to break on the ball to make a play. While Brown has been more physical, he is less decisive, and is struggling to handle receivers at the line. Once they get past him, he isn’t able to recover.
Unless there is a setback of some sort, the third cornerback job really is Jackson’s to lose.
- Fullback Kyle Juszczyk had a nice showing today as a lead blocker in running situations. He was able to locate his man consistently and lead the backs through the hole. The big thing with Juszczyk is that he is also handling contact pretty well at the point of impact. He’s not laying anyone out, but is getting enough initial contact on the backers to impede their progress. On a blocking play against C.J. Mosley, Juszczyk did a nice job of turning the rookie around in the hole.
- A byproduct of the blocks Juszczyk executed was a solid performance for running back Bernard Pierce. Pierce was very workmanlike today, taking short gains and turning them upfield for more positive yardage. He looked very good sustaining his balancing to bounce off tackles and maintain a forward lean.
- Speaking of laying out people on blocks, tight end Crockett Gilmore had a play in which he not only drove his guy onto his back, but he caved in the entire right side. He is consistently winning at the line and isn’t afraid to take on anyone.
- Lastly, linebacker Pernell McPhee had another strong performance rushing the passer and playing the run. You can count on McPhee to get at least two or three hurries off the edge in every practice.