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Ravens starting strong safety James Ihedigbo helps lead versatile secondary

Named a starter at strong safety, James Ihedigbo is pleased his coaches and teammates have confidence in him on the field.

James Ihedigbo was named Baltimore's starting strong safety to enter the 2013 season.
James Ihedigbo was named Baltimore's starting strong safety to enter the 2013 season.
Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

No one told James Ihedigbo that if he waited his turn, he'd have a shot to start.

He's all too familiar with the business side of the NFL, where one day you're on top and the next day you're looking for work. All he could do, since signing with the Ravens a year ago from today, was put in the work during practice and hope it ultimately paid off.

It did, when Ravens coach John Harbaugh announced him as Baltimore's starting strong safety to open the 2013 regular season.

"It's good the coaching staff has the confidence in me as a player and my teammates have that confidence in me, and just moving forward and being that guy and playing to the level I know I'm capable of playing," Ihedigbo said. "Going out every Sunday and showcasing that."

Though Ihedigbo is the starter, rookie safety Matt Elam, drafted with the 32nd overall pick in the first round, will get plenty of playing time. Baltimore has a unique secondary in that most of the players can play multiple positions. Ihedigbo can play strong safety, nickel and a hybrid safety/linebacker position. Elam can play both strong and free safeties as well as nickel.

Fellow safety Michael Huff can play free safety, nickel and cornerback. With that kind of cross-training, the Ravens could feature some three-safety sets on passing downs, in order to get quick pressure to the quarterback.

"You just have to do whatever you can to help the team win," Elam said. "It doesn't matter whatever the role is, you have to maximize your role and improve whatever you're doing to help the team win."

Even though he didn't get the starter's job to open the season, Elam said he'll be preparing like he is the starter at strong safety throughout the year since he's expected to play a good bit.

But, at least for now, Ihedigbo earned his starting job and his teammates have taken notice. Cornerback Corey Graham noted that Ihedigbo has acted like a leader since he first started running with the first team this offseason.

"James has done a great job getting everybody aligned," Graham said. "He's like the quarterback back there, especially as a DB. We're looking for him to get us the calls and get us lined up. He's been pretty physical and been making all the plays he's supposed to make."

Ihedigbo has started 15 games in his previous five years, which includes three starts in 2012 when former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard injured his ribs.

His time has come to step in as an NFL starter for Baltimore, a job he's not taking lightly.

"You perform at a high level and you get rewarded for that. Nothing is foreknown, saying, ‘If you do this and hang in there then you'll have a starting job waiting for you,'" Ihedigbo said. "It doesn't work like that."

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