The Baltimore Ravens have placed an emphasis on boosting the secondary over the past couple of seasons.
The team has tried to avoid a repeat of several late-game collapses that has coincided with a three-year playoff drought.
Last year, the secondary showed vast improvement and led the NFL with 22 interceptions.
However, the unit suffered a costly breakdown in the season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals that cost the Ravens a berth in the postseason. In that game, quarterback Andy Dalton threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd on a 4th and 12 in the final minute that gave Cincinnati a 31-27 victory.
The breakdown had cornerback Tony Jefferson in tears after the game. The Ravens spent several weeks questioning the coverage on that play.
Entering the 2018 season, the Ravens should have one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL.
Tavon Young, who missed last season with a knee injury, and Maurice Canady will play in the slot. Veterans Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson will start at safety. That experience should be beneficial with communication and making sure receivers don’t run free downfield.
Rookie Anthony Averett, a fourth-round pick from Alabama, could also push for playing time. While he is a bit undersized at 5-11, 183 pounds, he has solid coverage skills and has been lauded for his toughness.
In the Ravens rookie camp, Averett showcased some of that play-making ability. He could also make an impact on special teams.
Averett played in 36 career games (27 starts) at Alabama and finished with 98 tackles (71 solo).
“There’s great competition here,” Averett said. “I’m definitely going to come in and bring some more competition. I’m definitely going to compete. I just have to learn the systems. It’s a different language right now. [I’m] just going to learn and compete for the jobs.”
Another player to watch is rookie safety DeShon Elliott, a sixth-round pick from Texas. Elliott, 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, is a ball hawk that had six interceptions and broke up seven passes for the Longhorns last season. He has the potential to play himself into the rotation at safety with a strong training camp. Like Averett, Elliott could also make a big impact on special teams because of his speed and ability to hit.
In 2017, he amassed 127 return yards on six interceptions — the fourth-most in program history. Elliott was also named a First-Team All-American.
The Ravens certainly have the potential to take over games in the secondary this season. The challenge now is to execute.
The players are confident that new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale will be aggressive and put the team in position to succeed. The upcoming OTAs will play a big part in this unit’s development.