Only a couple of short yeas ago, the cornerback position on the Baltimore Ravens was considered the team's weakest link. Although they had Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis in front and Ed Reed behind them, the corners were still targeted and beaten by opposing quarterbacks, thoroughly frustrating coaches and fans alike.
That all seemed to change in 2011, as the Ravens used their first-round draft pick to select Colorado CB Jimmy Smith. Smith did not play a ton in 2011 but his time seemed to increase as the year progressed. However, the other two main cornerbacks, Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams, stepped it up big time and shut down opposing receivers.
Webb raised his level of play to the point that many Ravens fans were upset he was given a Pro Bowl invitation. Not a single passing touchdown was put on the board all season by the players he was covering and he led the team in interceptions, highlighted by a pick-six against the New York Jets and a sweet, athletic interception of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.
Cary Williams came into his own in 2011, after previously languishing as a reserve. Williams size (6'1") had him matching up against the bigger receivers and he played well in tough situations. Recovering from an injury this off-season, Williams has not gotten the practice reps but should be ready when Training Camp opens in less than a month.
In the meantime, second year pro Jimmy Smith seems poised to stake a claim to the starting position in 2012 opposite Webb. Smith now has his first full off-season as there was the NFL Lockout last year. Smith has the unique combination of size (6'2") and speed, showing flashes of it last year, highlighted by an acrobatic interception and long return against the Patriots in the Ravens losing effort in that same AFC Championship Game.
Which two of these three end up on the field at the first snap of the 2012 regular season appears to be virtually irrelevant. The NFL is a passing league and all three defensive backs figure to get plenty of playing time. In addition to Webb, Williams and Smith, the team has a plethora of other options at defensive back and what was once a significant concern is now as deep a unit as there is in the league.