A week into training camp, Ravens pass game coordinator Chris Hewitt could name one starting cornerback with some level of confidence.
“Well, right now, we’ve got Marlon [Humphrey],” Hewitt said after practice Tuesday. “He’s solidified himself as one of the corners.”
The Ravens will need more than just Humphrey, of course, and that’s where the intrigue lies. They not only have to figure out who’s lining up next to their star cornerback but also where, and how often. Humphrey’s a sure-thing starter with enough versatility to handle either outside cornerback position, as well as the slot.
Through the first week of camp, Humphrey has played primarily out wide, as he did last season. Free-agent signing Rock Ya-Sin has paired with him on the other side of the defense. Defensive back Brandon Stephens has lined up in the slot with the first-string defense, taking on the role that safety Kyle Hamilton ably handled last season. But Hewitt and coach John Harbaugh this week both called the nickel back battle an open competition.
“We have a lot of guys that we can use and put in there,” Hewitt said. “But, as of right now, it is an open competition. We’ve got ‘Pep’ [Damarion Williams], we’ve got Arthur [Maulet], we’ve got ‘A.D.’ [Ar’Darius Washington], Kyle, Marlon. ... We’ve got a lot of guys that can go in there. Even Jalyn [Armour-Davis] can go in there and play nickel. So it’s all about who comes out of there.”
For now, Stephens seems the favorite. At 6 feet 1, 215 pounds, he has the athletic profile that best meshes with the defense’s identity — “Nobody runs the ball on the Baltimore Ravens,” Hewitt said — and plenty of experience. Stephens can also line up as an outside cornerback or deep safety, giving coordinator Mike Macdonald another potential presnap chameleon.
“Brandon’s a guy — he’s a utility knife,” Hewitt said. “Brandon’s played pretty much every position in the back end. He’s played corner, he’s played nickel, he’s played dime, and he’s played safety. We’ll continue to use him in that aspect to try and get him on the field. … Our thing here is, we use guys that are interchangeable parts. Wherever we see fit that we get the best matchup with them, that’s where we’ll put them.”
Armour-Davis could change the Ravens’ thinking. Hewitt said Tuesday that the second-year cornerback, finally free of lingering hip troubles, is “pushing” Ya-Sin for his starting job. If Armour-Davis proves himself worthy of a starting job, and so does the veteran Ya-Sin, Humphrey could slide back into the slot, where he played regularly early in his career.
The return of Williams, who was cleared to practice Monday, and the assimilation of Maulet, who saw significant time inside for the Pittsburgh Steelers, will also shape the Ravens’ cornerback picture.
“We’ll find out who comes out of there,” Hewitt said.
The seventh day of full-squad training camp practice starts at 1:20 p.m. at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills. After practice, Harbaugh will speak with reporters, followed by offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, center Tyler Linderbaum and left tackle Ronnie Stanley.
What I’m looking for
Resilience from Rock?
Ya-Sin struggled in coverage Tuesday, especially when he had to contend with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham jumped over Ya-Sin for one red-zone touchdown, deked past him on a smooth release for another red-zone score and ran by him later on a vertical route, only to drop quarterback Lamar Jackson’s on-target pass.
Ya-Sin’s given up some big plays during organized team activities, mandatory minicamp and now training camp, but he usually manages to get his hands on balls, and he’s rarely followed one bad day with another. Is he due to bounce back Wednesday?
At Saturday’s M&T Bank Stadium practice, Ravens offensive linemen took on pass rushers in one-on-one battles for the first time in camp. On Tuesday, we got the Ravens’ first receivers-versus-defensive-backs battles.
Wide receiver Zay Flowers was, as expected, hard to bottle up. He beat Ya-Sin on his first repetition before winning easily against reserve corners his next two times up. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, meanwhile, would’ve had two catches in his two matchups with Humphrey, if not for an underthrown deep shot.
Expect more showdowns between safety Kyle Hamilton and tight ends Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely, too. What they lack in speed, they make up for with physicality and technique.
Special teams temperament
Special teams coordinator Chris Horton had an early-practice message for players under his watch Tuesday: They needed to wake up. (There might’ve been a profanity tossed in for effect, too.)
Inside linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips heard the message, loud and clear — on defense, anyway. The special teams standout had an interception of a red-zone pass from quarterback Josh Johnson and added a couple of pass breakups. With the NFL’s new kickoff rules perhaps diminishing the importance of players like Phillips, who played just one defensive snap in 2022, defensive highlights can go a long way on cut-down day.
Follow along for updates
The Banner will have multiple reporters at each day of training camp practice. Follow along for updates from them.