A lot has been made about the Ravens' cornerback depth — or lack thereof — in the past couple of weeks.
Cornerback Chykie Brown got off to a poor start early in camp, getting beat on deep passes to Steve Smith and Jacoby Jones. The moment Aaron Ross tore his Achilles, Brown was seen as the leader for the third cornerback spot, though there has since been some trepidation about that taking place.
But with Lardarius Webb injuring his back and Jimmy Smith missing practice time recently, Asa Jackson has had the opportunity to work with the first team. And to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, he hasn't disappointed.
"I'll tell you what: Asa had a heck of a day today," Pees told reporters following Friday's practice. "I watched him down there in one-on-ones. I don't usually go down to one-on-ones — I just go with the front — but I went down to one-on-ones today, and Asa is really competing. He's having a real, real good camp. And then he had a big play right there in the two-minute situation, which you know I've talked about a bunch that we have to get better at that. We have to end drives and finish with the offense on the field at the end of the game - not the defense. So, that's big for us."
Regardless of whether Jackson or Brown is the third corner, the winner of the role will likely be asked to defend an outside receiver in nickel packages. Perhaps Jackson could man the slot better than Brown, but Webb has proven he's exceptional in that role. This is where missing Corey Graham becomes a huge factor, because Graham could line up outside, inside or play safety if the Ravens absolutely needed him to. They won't be able to get that with Brown or Jackson, at least not at this time.
Therefore, it could be a situation where the defensive staff has some key decisions to make. Do the Ravens allow Brown or Jackson to play left corner while moving Webb inside in nickel packages? Or could they move Smith to left corner and place the third corner on the right side while letting Webb work inside in three-corner sets? In the past, excluding the Lions game when Smith followed Calvin Johnson around the field, the Ravens have kept their corners primarily on one side of the field. But maybe the coaches tinker with it some until they find a grouping they're confident in.
One other possibility is employing three safeties in a substitution package. Darian Stewart, a versatile defender that can already play free and strong safety, could wind up playing some nickel corner. And then that would allow either Jeromy Miles or Terrence Brooks to play free safety, with Matt Elam at strong safety.
Options exist right now, but they may not be seen as the right kind of options. On defense, cornerback appears to be the weakest area, relatively speakingA. The defensive line's rotation appears deep and solid, even with Brent Urban's unfortunate ACL injury. The linebackers — inside and outside — are well-rounded. But the back end, which has two pretty good corners, will have to work out some kinks as preseason games approach.
Pees believes there is enough depth in the unit. He's just waiting to see which guys impress the coaching staff the most.
"Somebody has to rise to the top," he said. "The cream has to rise to the top, and somebody has to take the job, and I don't know right now who that is. I feel pretty good about Jimmy Smith on the one side, and then there's a lot of competition over on the other side. Right now, I couldn't tell you who that is. Those guys just have to keep competing. That's the great thing about the preseason — we get an opportunity to evaluate them. We may do some things that I may not normally do in a game just to put those guys out there and see what they can do. This is the time to experiment and see if they can do it, and not when the season starts."