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With only 3 days until the start of the Baltimore Ravens training camp in Westminster, Maryland we take a look at what I think will be the 5 most important position battles throughout the month. Coming in at the 3rd most important battle is between Safeties Tom Zbikowski and Ken Hamlin.
As of right now, it looks as if the Ravens are going to be without Free Safety Ed Reed to begin the start of the 2010 season. Because of a hip procedure done on Reed recently, the Ravens are going to have to take precaution in making sure they have a player ready to fill that roll come the first game against the New York Jets. Tom Zbikowski has been a Raven his entire career and is starting to make a case for himself that he can indeed be a starting Safety in this league. Ken Hamlin on the other hand is a former pro bowler who was recently cut from the Dallas Cowboys and picked up by Baltimore as some insurance in case Reed cannot go at the start of the season.
Lets take a closer look at the battle between Zbikowski and Hamlin:
Tom Zbikowski - 5'11" - 210 lbs - 3 Years Experience
Defense Stats YEAR TEAM G TOT SOLO AST PD SACK FF REC INT YDS TD 2008 BAL 16 19 16 3 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 2009 BAL 15 29 24 5 4 0.0 0 0 2 13 0 Career 31 48 40 8 4 0.0 0 0 2 13 0
- Last year the Ravens saw that spending a 3rd round draft pick on Zbikowski in 2008 was a good idea. When Ed Reed went down with an injury during a stretch last year, Zbikowski stepped up and we saw little drop off at the position. Baltimore was able to go 3-1 in games where Zbikowski started at Free Safety for Reed and notched 2 interceptions during that span.
- What Zbikowski will need to do: I think first and foremost Tom will need to show the coaches that having him in there at FS will not be a liability. Filling in for a future Hall of Fame player is no cake walk, but Zbi showed that he can indeed handle the work load. One thing I think Zbi will need to prove to us is that he can play the run a little better. With Reed's injury concerns, we do not have him playing the run as often because of a risk of something ending his career. Zbikowski will need to show that he can do everything asked for at the position.
Ken Hamlin - 6'2" - 209 lbs - 8 Years Experience
Defense Stats YEAR TEAM G TOT SOLO AST PD SACK FF REC INT YDS TD 2003 SEA 16 96 76 20 8 0.0 2 0 1 2 0 2004 SEA 16 80 64 16 9 2.0 1 0 4 48 0 2005 SEA 6 26 22 4 2 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 2006 SEA 16 96 75 21 11 2.0 1 0 3 63 0 2007 DAL 16 62 45 17 15 0.0 0 0 5 93 0 2008 DAL 16 74 53 21 2 1.0 1 0 1 0 0 2009 DAL 12 52 40 12 2 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 Career 98 486 375 111 49 5.0 5 0 14 206 0
- As of right now, we are unsure of what type of player Hamlin is in the NFL. It is a little strange that after coming off a pro bowl season only a few years ago, he was let go. This should tell us that Hamlin has indeed lost some of his abilities, but I do not think Ozzie would have brought him in here to compete with Zbikowski if he thought Hamlin was washed up. Known as a tackling machine at Free Safety, Hamlin had many good seasons for the Dallas Cowboys and showed off his ball hawking skills very often.
- What Hamlin will have to do: I think first and foremost, Hamlin will have to show that he still has the athleticism needed to play an important position in this defense. Hamlin has also had injury concerns in the recent past and will need to show that he can handle the physical nature of the AFC North. Much like Zbikowski, Hamlin is going to have to show that he can play the run. He will also need to show coaches that he still has the speed needed to play deep coverage for the Ravens. When given the opportunity to run with the first team defense (which I think he will) Hamlin must show that he is also not a liability.
Others who could contend for the starting Free Safety spot: Haruki Nakamura, KJ Gerrard.
Who will win the battle for the starting Free Safety spot?: Right now, I think it will be Tom Zbikowski. He is the one who has not reached his peak and has shown so much promise in his short time as a Baltimore Raven. As stated earlier, we were 3-1 with Zbi starting and the loss to Green Bay was maybe his best game. Tom is younger and most likely faster than Hamlin is, plus he knows the system very well already. Hamlin is still a good player IMO, but there just won't be enough time to knock Zbikowski out of the starting role unless there is a huge difference in abilities, which I do not see happening. Should be a great battle to watch though.
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