Safety Tom Zbikowski Needs To Step Up In Baltimore

Tom Zbikowski sprinted through the Ravens' offseason workouts like a man in search of his true identity.

Is he the strong safety who starred at Notre Dame in a down era for the Fighting Irish, a player scouts said had coverage weaknesses and would be a "box" safety playing close to the line in the NFL?

Or is he the playmaker he seemed to be his redshirt sophomore season in South Bend, Ind., when he made five interceptions and scored four touchdowns -- two on punt returns -- on a bowl-bound team?

The Ravens, who open training camp Monday in Westminster for rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans, are about to answer those questions once and for all.

While Ed Reed rehabilitates his surgically reconstructed hip, Zbikowski, 25, will likely get the first shot at replacing the team's Pro Bowl free safety. It is no small matter in a secondary that will also be missing two cornerbacks and on a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

If passing camps meant anything, Zbikowski is ready to step in. He showed better quickness and more understanding of the defense this summer than in either of his previous two seasons with the Ravens.

It was enough that secondary coach Chuck Pagano said he sees an "aura" about Zbikowski now and characterizes it with a reference to the silver screen.

"He's like that guy that plays Jason Bourne in 'Bourne Identity' Matt Damon," Pagano said. "He's a steely-eyed assassin. Things don't affect him. You know those guys whose hands don't shake when their finger's on the trigger? He's one of those guys."

"He's not here," Pagano said, holding his left hand high. "He's not here," he added, moving his hand low. Then he moved his hand chest-high. "He's always right here. And usually 99 percent of the time, he's on point."

It's an identity born of Zbikowski's newest offseason workout regimen and his comfort zone with the Ravens. He made the first four starts of his career in December when Reed was out. In his first start in Green Bay, he had perfect coverage in the end zone against Jermichael Finley, but the Packers' 6-foot-5 tight end caught a short alley-oop floater over the 5-foot-11 Zbikowski for a touchdown.

In his second start, against Detroit at home, he drew Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, also 6-5, on a double move -- and broke up the deep pass.

Zbikowski, a third-round draft pick in 2008, had two interceptions in those four games and more than held his own.

Fantasy Impact: 

Baltimore's secondary is thin right now and opponents will likely take to the air in an attempt to beat the Ravens. This could make Zbikowski a player to watch in IDP leagues. The Ravens are 4for4's number three defense.

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