OWINGS MILLS – Tom Zbikowski spent his time during the NFL lockout delivering a series of jabs, uppercuts and haymakers, intimidating opponents with his punching combinations.
Now, here comes the third round of the preseason for Zbikowski as he makes his bid to replace Dawan Landry as the Baltimore Ravens’starting strong safety. The former third-round draft pick from Notre Dame is expected to start Thursday night against the Washington Redskins and has lined up with the first-team defense all week in practice.
“There’s no time to relax,” Zbikowski said. “There’s a lot of competition back there, there’s a lot of talent back there. During the season, it’s going to be a benefit to our defense because of how much we’re going to be able to accomplish with personnel packages. Once the dust settles, we’ll be playing to our strengths. It’s never a bad thing to have that kind of depth.”
Zbikowski started the first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles with Bernard Pollard getting the nod against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Zbikowski indicated that he wasn’t entirely sure if he was going to start. However, that’s the current plan.
The third preseason game is traditionally the most important preseason game, and starting and playing well this week would give Zbikowski a chance to stake a strong claim on the job.
“I’m not sure, I don’t know how it’s going to pan out,” he said. “They really haven’t said anything. I’ll go into it planning on doing that because you always want to be ready I’ll go into it expecting to get a good amount of playing time and worry about my game more than anything.”
Zbikowski has had a fairly quiet preseason statistically with two tackles, but has been steady in pass coverage.
A 6-foot-1, 228-pound enforcer signed to a two-year contract after leading the Houston Texans with 112 tackles last season, Pollard has intercepted one pass and deflected two passes.
And Haruki Nakamura, who’s also competing with Zbikowski and Pollard has eight tackles to rank second on the team in tackles this preseason to go with one sack and a pass deflection.
“Tom played really well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I put all those guys in the same category. What’s interesting about those guys is that they all play with a different style. As we look at this thing, building packages for these guys is going to be what it’s all about.
“You guys talk a lot about who is going to start and all that. They could all be starting based on what package is on the field. I know we say that, but the game is changing that way. Tom has done a great job with the coverage stuff and a great job with the pressures, and that’s probably his forte.”
Zbikowski started the first six games last season at free safety while former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed recovered from hip surgery.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder finished with 17 tackles one year after intercepting two passes with 29 tackles in four starts.
To separate himself from the pack, Zbikowski will likely need to make some bigger plays.
“There’s not going to be much to it,” Zbikowski said. “It will be whoever’s playing better at the time. Bernard’s got some good size and has got a reputation for run-stopping, but he can cover with the best. It’s not like he can’t cover and can’t cover ground. He’s a very well-rounded safety. It will just be a competition through the season.”
Zbikowski plans on dropping another five pounds to get even quicker, but seems to be carrying the extra weight well after fighting as light as 192 pounds as an undefeated cruiserweight in three boxing matches this offseason for promoter Bob Arum.
Zbikowski says he has grown accustomed to football again after spending his time earlier this year hitting opponents and punching bags.