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It doesn’t seem that long ago when the Ravens were signing cornerbacks off tryouts and playing a rookie free agent with the first-team at nickel.
Now, weeks later, Baltimore suddenly has some depth and flexibility at cornerback – particularly at nickel.
On Monday night, the Ravens primarily used safety Haruki Nakamura in the slot. That didn’t leave newcomer cornerback Josh Wilson with many defensive snaps, but he’ll factor in more as he learns the defense. And soon, cornerback Lardarius Webb will be returning to game action.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see how it shakes out because all of a sudden we have some competition,” Harbaugh said.
Nakamura said his conversion to nickel began when he jokingly suggested it in the early part of training camp when the Ravens were hit with injuries. He quickly started to enjoy it and his skill set made him a natural fit.
“It’s fun, a lot of fun,” Nakamura said. “When you’re playing safety, you’re involved in every play. But when you’re nickel, you’re literally thrown into the middle of everything. It’s a very important position. My football knowledge has grown so much more.”
After weeks of practice, Baltimore’s coaches decided to give Nakamura a shot at nickel during the Ravens’ second preseason game against Washington. He recorded four tackles against the Redskins and one tackle and an interception versus the New York Giants in the same role five days later.
“He shined,” Harbaugh said. “He’s our best option at this time.”
“I don’t think we anticipated necessarily to this level him being able to cover in the slot. He understands the defense really well, he’s very quick and athletic and he’s a playmaker. With that position in there, those are the most important things. He’s really a tremendous blitzer too. For us that’s a huge deal.”
Nakamura wasn’t tested too much by the Jets, who didn’t run many three-wide sets. That didn’t leave much playing time for Wilson , who made his Ravens debut primarily on special teams.
Moving forward, the Ravens have Chris Carr, Webb, Wilson and now Nakamura with nickel experience. Carr, Webb and Wilson can also play outside.
That gives the Ravens valued flexibility in their secondary.
“In this package, you play the slot, you play the dime, you play the extra – the seventh defensive back,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a lot of places we can play he and Josh and Kenny Hamlin and Lardarius [Webb] when he comes back. We’re going to have a nice mix of guys playing in different packages.”