OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb knows this is a critical season for his NFL future.
Though he restructured the remaining three years of his current contract to provide the organization extra cap space earlier this offseason, the 29-year-old knows he probably won’t survive a repeat of last year when he missed training camp and three of the first four games of the regular season due to a lower back injury. When he did play, Webb appeared slow and struggled in pass coverage for much of the season as the Ravens were dealt a plethora of injuries at cornerback and finished 23rd in the league in pass defense.
Reporting for this week’s mandatory minicamp, Webb appears slimmer and had a strong practice on Wednesday, breaking up several passes and playing tight coverage in 11-on-11 drills. Entering his seventh season in Baltimore, the 2009 third-round pick isn’t taking his newfound health for granted.
“It feels good just to be able to run around and [not] have any pain,” Webb said. “But right now, we’re just working on the secondary [and] just putting the work in to get us back to where we’re supposed to be.”
The healthy returns of Webb and fellow starting cornerback Jimmy Smith are the biggest reasons why the Ravens expect to be much better in the secondary than they were a year ago. General manager Ozzie Newsome added further depth at the position by taking Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker in the fourth round of this year’s draft and signing veteran slot cornerback Kyle Arrington last month.
Though Webb’s absence from voluntary organized team activities was surprising considering he was coming off a difficult year and could be a cap casualty next offseason, the veteran defensive back said he was focused on individual training to strengthen and balance his core during that time. Should he not bounce back from last year’s struggles, the Ravens could save $3.5 million in cap space by cutting him next winter before he’s scheduled to carry a $9.5 million cap figure in 2016.
The early reviews for Webb this week have been mostly positive as he bounced back from a shaky opening day against veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to break up several passes on Wednesday, including an end-zone throw intended for Marlon Brown and an outside route to rookie tight Maxx Williams.
“He came out and he looks like he’s in shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “His feet look really good. He’s moving his feet, he’s changing direction. Better today than yesterday, which is to be expected. He hasn’t been in the OTAs, so the football movement stuff is going to be new for him. He looks good, so it’s a plus.”
Webb and the secondary are trying to put the memories of last season behind them as they aim for health and better production in 2015 to help the Ravens advance deeper into the playoffs. After watching the Ravens offense twice jump out to 14-point leads and score 31 points against New England in a four-point loss in the divisional round, it’s clear that Webb wants the pass defense to be able to provide better support to the other side of the ball in 2015.
After the Ravens collected only 11 interceptions a year ago, Webb and Smith being able to play full seasons would go a long way in trying to create more game-changing plays this coming season.
“Let’s get the ball. Let’s get the ball back to Joe Flacco and let him do his thing,” Webb said. “You know Joe’s got all the pieces around him. Joe is an awesome quarterback, so if we can just give him extra possessions, it’s going to be a big year.”