Almost exactly a year to the day after he tore an ACL in a non-contact incident during organized team activities, Baltimore cornerback Tavon Young is back on the practice field and said he is "the same dude, probably even better."
That's welcome news for the Ravens, who saw Young as an emerging talent before he suffered the knee injury coming down with an interception during OTAs last June. Young, a fourth-round draft pick out of Temple in 2016, had won a starting job as a rookie by midseason, playing larger than his 5-foot-9, 177-pound frame.
Young finished that season with 50 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defensed, showing a physical presence, good closing speed and a nose for the ball. He also didn't back down from bigger, taller receivers; one of his more notable plays that season was when he broke up a goal-line pass intended for Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who had Young by about 7 inches and 70 pounds.
With the acquisition of Brandon Carr and the drafting of Marlon Humphrey last year, the Ravens hoped to slide Young inside to play slot corner, the ideal position for his size and skill set. Those plans were postponed by Young's injury, but now he is back and lining up as the slot corner in the team's No. 1 nickel package.
"I like nickel. I feel like you can do a little bit of everything," Young said after the team's OTA workout May 31. "You can get sacks, strips, fumbles, all of that, interceptions and tackles for loss. I feel like nickel, that's where the action is and I like that."
Young said it was frustrating last year as he'd watch practice through a training-room window, knowing he was months away from playing, but he took solace and advice from teammates such as Lardarius Webb, who had battled back from similar injuries.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has made depth in the defensive backfield a major priority after the lack of it was badly exposed in recent years. Enter Carr, Humprey, Young and Maurice Canady, among others.
No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith is still recovering from his Achilles injury, so his status when the season begins is unclear. Canady has not been present for either OTA workout open to the media as he deals with a knee injury that hobbled him last year. But the return of Young is a major boost to the Ravens' secondary.
By rule, there is no contact during the OTA workouts, but there are plenty of opportunities for 1-on-1 matchups between cornerbacks and receivers in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
Head coach John Harbaugh said after the May 31 workout that Young, for the first time, "really got past the trepidation" of returning from the injury. "I thought today he let it cut loose a little bit more and looked really good," he added.
ONE MORE WEEK OF OTAs, MINICAMP NEXT WEEK: The Ravens are in their final segment of OTA workouts this week, and the June 7 workout will be open to the media. Afterward, running back Buck Allen, safety Tony Jefferson, linebacker Patrick Onwuasor and offensive lineman Matt Skura are expected to meet with the media. The team will hold its mandatory minicamp June 12-14, the last formal workouts before training camp.
COLLEGE HALL OF FAME FINALISTS ANNOUNCED: The initial ballot for the 2019 College Football Hall of Fame includes several people with ties to the Ravens, most notably linebacker Ray Lewis (who played collegiately at Miami) and quarterback Steve McNair (Alcorn State). Others on the ballot include current Ravens wide receivers coach Bobby Engram (Penn State), tight end Dallas Clark (Iowa), who starred for the Indianapolis Colts but played for the Ravens in 2013.