Ravens safety Eric Weddle passed through a line of football players from Woodlawn High School and spotted a teen wearing No. 32.
“Are you wearing that for me?” Weddle asked the enthusiastic younger, who nodded his head.
Weddle then made sure he slapped hands with each of the players who were lined up on both sides of the Ravens’ entrance to the field.
Later in the day, Weddle leaned against the goal post in the end zone and shouted encouragement to his teammates as they defended the Los Angeles Rams during the joint practice. He then joined the fray and came up with an interception off a tip.
Weddle, who is entering his 12th season, is clearly the de facto leader of the secondary.
Last year, Weddle earned his fifth trip to the Pro Bowl nod after registering 63 tackles. He led the Ravens with six interceptions, which also tied for third in the NFL with A.J. Bouye.
The Ravens also led the league with 22 interceptions. Weddle is confident the group can be even better this year, especially with slot cornerback Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith fully healthy and Tony Jefferson back as a starter for another year. Weddle also likes the aggressiveness of new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.
“I think two years ago, when I got here, it was a transition of sorts with the secondary,” Weddle said. “A lot of moving parts. Who was going to be here? Who was not going to be here? It wasn’t really good play. Over the last couple years, we’ve stepped up our play as a secondary making plays, and we’ve just got to continue to get better. And the continuity itself, we have our secondary intact from last year.
“We get Tavon back. Tony is back healthy. Jimmy, coming off Achilles, I don’t know how he’s back out here full-speed, but he is, and he looks amazing. Those things are always a positive when you’re going into another year, Brandon [Carr] being in Year Two, myself being Year Three. In the same system with ‘Wink’ [Don Martindale] taking over, there are no drawbacks. There’s only positive energy and positive schematic changes that are going to help us as a group. We’re excited. We expect big things from our defense.”
In addition, fellow safety Chuck Clark has played well throughout camp. Rookie DeShon Elliott has been a thumper and will add an edge to the secondary. Marlon Humphrey is pushing Brandon Carr for a starting role and Maurice Canady has also played well throughout camp.
In short, the Ravens finally have enough depth to absorb some injuries.
The secondary could pave the way for ending a three-year playoff drought. Weddle will certainly help lead the charge. He also understands this is one of the most critical seasons in franchise history.
“The bottom line is, if we don’t play good, it doesn’t matter, and we’ll all be gone,” he said. “We have to go out and focus on our job and focus in on finishing games and having a great system and playing for certain situations. We’ll do that, and we’ll go out and execute.”