One parallel the Baltimore Ravens have this season compared to the last is that one unit was the reason for their downfall in the previous year.
In 2013, the offensive line was the weak point of the team; atrocious to be exact. The following season, the Ravens waltzed into the playoffs thanks in part to an often errorless five-man front.
Could the cornerbacks experience a similar year-to-year improvement this year?
After an up-and-down 2014 season in which the secondary was a revolving door due to injuries, the Ravens enter the 2015 campaign with a heathy and talented set of cornerbacks.
What do this year’s cornerbacks have in store for the defense?
Notable new additions: Kyle Arrington, Tray Walker and Cassius Vaughn
Desperately in need of talented depth, the Ravens used free agency and the draft to ensure a plentiful bunch of cornerbacks for the 2015 season.
At the forefront of Baltimore’s offseason additions is Arrington, who is, in many ways, the ideal nickel corner. Arrington’s success in New England and dependability in the slot should give the Ravens an imposing trio of Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Arrington in nickel packages.
Walker and Vaughn are less notable additions, but both players have healthy chances at making the roster. The fourth round draft selection, Walker, is a project, however his immense athleticism is a welcomed addition to the team.
Vaughn is a feisty, physical cornerback who could latch on with the team as a veteran backup.
Player with most to prove: Asa Jackson
The additions of the three cornerbacks mentioned above could spell trouble for some incumbents, particularly Jackson. If both Walker and Vaughn make the final roster, Jackson’s roster hopes may diminish.
Often a preseason star, Jackson has achieved little success during his NFL career, Now in is fourth year, he is entering a make-or-break training camp. Hailed as a slot/nickel cornerback, the additions of Arrington and Vaughn will force Jackson to step up on defense.
Where he could hold value is as a return man, which is a position with no clear-cut option at this time.
Special teams success or not, if Jackson does not display improved consistency in coverage, he could be on the outside looking in when the final 53-man roster is announced.
Player to follow: Lardarius Webb
Set to turn 30 in October, the oft-injured Webb appears to be on the downturn of his career.
His 2014 campaign was mediocre. While he was no liability, he was not the shutdown corner he once was prior to his 2012 ACL tear. But as he enters the 2015 season with no publicly known injuries, perhaps Webb could be a candidate for a rebound year, especially given the added depth at cornerback.
When healthy, Webb can be an asset for defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Will he make it through training camp unscathed?
Potential surprise: Asa Jackson misses out on final roster
This was hinted at above. With the current depth at cornerback, Jackson is far from a lock to make the team.
The rather unproven fourth-year man could make way for less experienced, but more promising, options such as Walker and Rashaan Melvin. If the Ravens keep no more than six cornerbacks, strong training camps by Walker, Melvin and Vaughn could push Jackson off the roster.
If he doesn’t show any improvement during training camp, Jackson will fail to stand out in a crowded group of cornerbacks, potentially ending his tenure in purple and black.