It took eight weeks, but the Ravens look like they finally have close to a healthy secondary.
Cornerbacks Chris Carr, Jimmy Smith and Danny Gorrer, and safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski all have battled injuries through the season's first two months, but with the exception of Gorrer, all of the once-banged up DBs are now fully healthy and able to contribute.
Carr and Zbikowski were the latest defensive backs to return; both got back on the field against the Cardinals on Sunday after missing time with a hamstring injury and concussion, respectively.
Smith, meanwhile, returned from a six-week absence last Monday night against the Jaguars, but he didn't see his first NFL reps on the defensive side of the ball until Sunday in the win over Arizona. The Ravens' 2011 first-round pick served as the team's dime back, while Carr stepped in as the nickel back in passing situations.
"It builds our depth, which is going to be big," head coach John Harbaugh said of having the injured defensive backs return. "We've had games where we have had (only) seven DBs active in the last few weeks."
Obviously, the one guy I'm excluding here is cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who has been lost for the season due to a knee injury. But entering their Week 9 game against Pittsburgh, the Ravens finally have a healthy, proven complement of defensive backs that they can rotate in.
The Ravens will continue to give Smith somewhat limited reps as they try and ease him into action. The rookie corner got minimal playing time in the preseason due to injury and is still trying to adapt to the play at the NFL level, but the Ravens hope to utilize the talented 23-year-old more as the season progresses.
"He's a guy that we're going to be counting on going forward," Harbaugh said. "He's going to have an expanded role, I would think, hopefully every week as we go forward. He was in the dime package a little bit last week and did a good job. We'll just have to see how it goes from there."
Carr, meanwhile, said after Sunday's game against Arizona that he could have returned a week earlier, but the team opted to play things safe with him and allow his ailing hamstring some extra time to recover.
The seven-year veteran is now in an interesting situation; Carr started all 16 games for the Ravens last year and the team re-signed him to a four-year, $14 million deal this offseason, but because of the time he's missed due to injury, he's now coming off the bench instead of starting.
Carr doesn't deny that he'd like as much playing time as the coaches will give him, but he says he's fine with coming on in sub packages while Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams get the starts at corner.
"Of course, I want to be on the field as much as possible," Carr said. "I know that I've been out for a while (and) I know we have a lot of talent, so whatever they want me to do, I'm going to go out there and put a smile on my face and be fine with it. I think what we're doing right now (is good). Jimmy got to play a little bit, and it's good because everybody's playing at a high level right now."