- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The rain came pouring down during the Baltimore Ravens’ practice Tuesday and it was a welcome change for safety Tony Jefferson. Jefferson spent the first four years of his career with the Arizona Cardinals, a state with constant sunshine and a dome stadium.

“It gave me that football feel, being out there in the rain,” Jefferson said. “It made me want to hit somebody.”

Jefferson’s aggression will come in handy for the Ravens, who are expecting him to be a core member of their defense. Jefferson headlined an offseason where the Ravens spent nearly $57 million in guaranteed money to bring in new defensive players in free agency.

Jefferson signed a four-year, $34 million contract ($19 million guaranteed) in March.

“It’s really important in our defense to have good safeties,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I think it’s probably important in a lot of defenses, but in our defense, maybe more than others because we do a lot of stuff. We’re kind of complex in what we do. We want to pressure people. We play multiple coverages, multiple fronts to disguise what we do.

“Having smart players back there that really get the game is a big plus for us. I think we’re really blessed to have two in Tony and Eric (Weddle).”

Together, Jefferson and Weddle form arguably the best safety pair in the AFC. Weddle, who spent nine years with the San Diego Chargers, joined the Ravens last offseason and finished 2016 as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded safety.

Baltimore’s defense had a significant turnaround last year, part of which was a return to form after an injury-filled 2015. They ranked ninth in points allowed per game (20.1) compared to 24th (25.1) the season before.

But the Ravens had been missing a tandem pair of safeties that other elite defenses have, such as Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas in Seattle. Last year, Baltimore went with Lardarius Webb as the safety next to Weddle.

With Jefferson’s signing, Webb has shifted to a backup role and a nickel cornerback. Harbaugh said Jefferson plays fast and has a great feel for the game. 

“It’s a beautiful chemistry we have going on right now,” Jefferson said. “I’m excited. We have great coaches who are very intellectual with the process going on and keeping us grounded. Our whole thing right now is just to keep doing.”

To get to this point, Jefferson has had to prove himself constantly. Look no further than something as simple as Jefferson’s rating in EA Sports’ Madden, which he was asked about Tuesday.

“I already know my rating, it’s 88. It’s solid,” he said. “When I first got in the game it was a 67. So, I’ve made some progress.”

Jefferson was an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma in 2013. He developed and blossomed alongside Arizona’s promising secondary with defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.

In 2016, Jefferson had a career-high 96 tackles, two sacks and five passes deflected. The 25-year-old was rewarded with a career-high payday in the offseason. 

Still, Jefferson takes issue with his Madden rating, like most players do. He pointed to being rated only 64 with his strength.

“I don’t know what they were looking for when they did that,” Jefferson said. “But the game updates the rosters as the weeks go on in the season, so hopefully I can apply some more strength during a regular football game.”

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