Even without Reed, safeties looking strong

The perception in the national media is that if six-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed isn’t healthy at the start of the season, the Ravens will be in trouble on the back end of their secondary.

Don’t try telling that to Dawan Landry, Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura and Ken Hamlin.

Yes, the Ravens would prefer having Reed on the field for all 16 games if at all possible. Yes, it would hurt if the ball-hawking safety needed to start the season on the reserve Physically Unable to Perform list, meaning he would miss at least six of the team’s regular season contests.

But so far this training camp, the quartet of healthy Ravens safeties has looked every bit ready to step in and play at a high level.

Landry looks strong and confident, and any hesitation that was lingering last season as a result of the spinal cord concussion he suffered in 2008 is now gone. He’s looks smooth when running in coverage, and has shown good explosion when closing on receivers in front of him. The pop is still there as well; Landry’s hits have already resulted in two offensive players being knocked out of practice.

Zbikowski, who is getting reps on the first-team with Reed out, has transformed himself into a lean, mean, free safety machine. The third-year Notre Dame product says he’s in the best shape of his football career, having trimmed down to around 200 pounds. He spent this offseason cutting fat while adding muscle in his neck and shoulders, which he thinks will help him deliver more blows this season and stay strong while doing it.

I’ve counted three interceptions from Zbikowski this camp, and he’s showing that last year’s four-game trial run as the starting free safety could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Nakamura appears to be completely recovered from his gruesome leg injury last year, and has really come on strong the first week of camp. Clearly happy to be back in pads after eight months of rehab, the third-year pro has made interceptions, big tackles, and is cementing his place as a key reserve on the roster.

Then there’s Hamlin, the free agent acquisition who is still learning the playbook but is ready to hit somebody. The former Cowboy held back a little bit yesterday when delivering a hit to Todd Heap, but he has been flying around looking for volunteers to be on the receiving end of a shoulder pad to the chest.

The bottom line is this: Do the Ravens want Ed Reed back healthy as soon as possible? Of course they do. We all know you can’t replace a future Hall of Famer.

Do they need him on the field to have a strong rotation at the safety spots?

That’s no longer so clear. The more you watch Landry, Zbikowski, Nakamura and Hamlin practice, the more you think the Ravens might be just fine without the former Defensive Player of the Year.

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