Strong safety job appears to be Pollard’s to lose

If you’re a fan of hard-hitting safeties that aren’t afraid to throw their weight around, I’ve got a feeling you’re going to like Bernard Pollard.

Don’t believe me? Check out how Pollard describes his on-field mentality:

“My thing is, I better not catch you slipping, because I’m gonna put you out.”

Told you. You’re going to like this guy.

Pollard has only been a part of the Ravens organization for two and a half weeks, but already, he appears to have the edge for the starting strong safety spot next to Ed Reed.

The former Texans and Chiefs safety has plenty of NFL experience; he’s played in 76 games over his five-year career with 59 starts, and he’s missed just four games in that time due to injury. After putting together a strong training camp, Pollard added a preseason start to his resume Friday, lining up with the first-string defense in a 31-13 win over the Chiefs.

“I’m pleased where I’m at,” Pollard said after the game. “I wouldn’t be out there if the coaches didn’t trust me, and I wouldn’t be out there if the players didn’t trust me. With this team, it’s a veteran team. With Ed back there, he has to be able to trust the person that he’s next to, and I really believe he trusts me 100 percent.

“There’s still things that I’m learning, as far as being in this scheme and knowing where guys are at, but that comes with the game. I’m a professional, I love the game of football, and I’m just excited because of what we have. Looking towards the future, as far as the season, it’s going to be exciting.”

The start Friday represented the first time that Pollard has been given a clear nod over fellow safety Tom Zbikowski since Pollard signed with the Ravens as a free agent Aug. 3. The two men have been splitting first-team reps during practice the last couple weeks, but while Zbikowski has the experience in the Ravens’ defensive system, Pollard has more experience overall, and his hard-hitting nature gives the Ravens a physical presence in the secondary.

One hurdle that Pollard has needed to overcome since joining the Ravens has been getting acclimated to the defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s system. Having played his whole NFL career on defenses that utilize a 4-3 defensive alignment, Pollard has been forced to adjust to the Ravens’ 3-4 front, which changes the way he needs to cover on the back end.

“That’s something that with me coming in here, I knew it was going to be different as far as terminology, with the defense, me coming up in a 4-3 scheme my whole life,” Pollard said. “But that comes with being a pro. When you make a change, things are going to come with that change. But I’m excited. I’m happy where I am.”

Another part of Pollard’s acclimation process in Baltimore is learning to play alongside Reed, who, as we all know, has a tendency to roam around as he pleases. Pollard might not be the best coverage safety around (that’s largely the reason why the Ravens were able to sign him for just $2.7 million over two years), but he says he feels confident that when Reed decides to jump up toward the line of scrimmage, he’ll provide help deep, and visa versa.

“Ed wants to get down to the nitty-gritty,” Pollard said. “He likes to stick his head in there, and I like to be back in coverage, as well. So I think it’s one of those things where we just talk to each other about where we’re going to be. Same with Zibby when Zibby and myself are in there. We go back and forth. Who’s down? Who’s back? What do you want to do? That’s my main thing with me coming here: Ed, what do you want to do? Because this guy has played this game at a high level his whole career. And I’ve played this game at a high level, but me knowing him, I know that dude’s a roamer. And when he roams, you better be careful.”

Pollard doesn’t have a firm grasp on the starting strong safety spot just yet; Zbikowski is still pushing hard for the job, and fellow fourth-year safety Haruki Nakamura is in the picture, as well. But with Reed’s all-world coverage skills already a part of the back end of the Ravens defense, Pollard’s abilities in the running game and the threat of him planting a receiver into the turf make the Purdue product a logical candidate for the starting strong safety job.

“Obviously, the coaches trust me, my players trust me, and that’s what it’s about - 10 other guys trusting you, knowing you’re going to do your job, coming down and filling where you’re supposed to fill,” Pollard said. “It’s exciting.”

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