Ailing at cornerback, Ravens preparing for wide-open Arizona offense


OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to face the most wide-open offense in the NFL, the Ravens practiced Wednesday without their top four cornerbacks entering training camp.
Tavon Young was lost for the season last month due to a neck injury and Jimmy Smith is expected to miss multiple games with a right knee injury, but Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr also missed the first full workout ahead of Sunday’s home opener against Arizona. Humphrey is dealing with a sore back, but he spoke at length with reporters in the locker room, which isn’t indicative of a player whose status is in any real danger. Carr was given a veteran day off, but he has dealt with some hip soreness recently.
The current health and depth at cornerback will be put to the test against a Cardinals offense that ran more plays with four wide receivers on the field in Week 1 than the rest of the NFL combined, according to Sharp Football Stats. First-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury has brought his version of the “Air Raid” offense to Arizona with 2019 first overall pick and 2018 Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray at the helm. Time will tell how successful the receiver-heavy, up-tempo offense will be, but its uniqueness makes for a challenging week of practice, especially when the Ravens are lighter at a position once thought to be their deepest.
“We have safeties that can cover receivers as well in zone and man coverage, so we’ll be in different kinds personnel groups just like we always are in terms of how we want to game-plan and match those guys,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We have a plan for that, obviously, that we will practice this week, but it’s a challenge. They’re spread out way more than anybody else.”
Playing with four wide receivers and one running back 67 percent of the time against Detroit, Murray started slowly in his NFL debut by completing just nine of his first 26 passes for 71 yards and an interception as the Cardinals fell behind 24-6. He heated up early in the fourth quarter, however, going 20-for-28 for 237 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way in what resulted in a 27-27 tie. Murray looked more comfortable and pushed the ball down the field more as the game progressed, but playing his first career road game against an intimidating Ravens defense known for getting after young quarterbacks will be a more challenging test than facing the Lions defense at home.
The ageless Larry Fitzgerald led Arizona with eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, but virtually all of that damage came from the slot, a position that’s become trickier for the Ravens to defend with Young being lost for the season. Carr and reserve safety Chuck Clark split nickel duties in the season opener, but Cyrus Jones, Anthony Averett, Anthony Levine, and DeShon Elliott are all options to defend the slot in various sub packages and game situations.
The Ravens used Averett on the outside when Smith exited on the sixth defensive play of the game against Miami, and the second-year cornerback settled in after slipping in coverage on the Dolphins’ only touchdown of the game late in the first half to finish with four tackles and a pass breakup. The 2018 fourth-round pick from Alabama had primarily worked at the nickel position in practices leading up to the opener as the Ravens secondary is still adjusting to life without the above-average Young.
“I don’t think he really planned on playing that much (outside) corner in the game, but he stepped up to the plate when Jimmy went out and really filled those shoes,” said Humphrey, who teamed with Averett for the Crimson Tide. “He can kind of do it all, and that’s what we’re going to need going down the stretch while Jimmy is out.”
Wednesday’s injury report
Humphrey, Carr, and Smith were the only three Baltimore players on the 53-man roster not to take part in Wednesday’s practice, but three others worked on a limited basis.
Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown missed practice time last week due to his surgically-repaired foot, but he is also dealing with a hip issue after his memorable NFL debut.
Below is the full injury report:
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (back), CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (hip), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), WR Chris Moore (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Tyus Bowser (groin)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Jonathan Bullard (hamstring), TE Charles Clay (non-injury), WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury), OL Lamont Gaillard (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Haason Reddick (knee), LB Ezekiel Turner (hand)
Odds & ends
Rookie outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson wore a No. 56 scout-team jersey during Wednesday’s practice to simulate former Raven and current Cardinals linebacker Terrell Suggs, the man whose NCAA Division I sacks record Ferguson broke at Louisiana Tech. The third-round pick was a healthy scratch in Week 1. … Carr and the National Breast Cancer Foundation have formed a partnership to provide free mammograms and patient services to underserved women. Carr has pledged $200,000 to fund programs in Dallas, his native Flint, Michigan, and Baltimore. … New Ravens public address announcer Greg Davis was in Owings Mills Wednesday to introduce Harbaugh and a few players when they stepped to the podium to answer questions from reporters. Davis has served in the same capacity for Navy football and other athletics since 2000.