Brooks in unexpected but familiar role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens drafted Terrence Brooks in the third round of this year's NFL draft, they expected him to help a position of need. No one envisioned that position to be nickelback, however.

Instead of playing free safety with the first-team defense, Brooks is covering the slot receiver these days with the starters. He's been asked to assume this role after injuries have sidelined cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle).

This isn't the first time Brooks has shown off his versatility. He played cornerback and safety at Florida State.

"It's kind of wild," Brooks said. "But that's definitely going to help my coverage skills. It's going to be good for me."

Putting Brooks at nickelback shows the Ravens' confidence in him, as well as level of desperation. The Ravens entered training camp with Jackson and Chykie Brown competing for the No. 3 cornerback spot behind starters Webb and Jimmy Smith.

With Webb and Jackson both injured, the Ravens' decision at nickelback was down to either undrafted rookie Tremain Jacobs, veteran Dominique Franks or Brooks.

The injuries to Webb and Jackson have both been described as minor ones. Until they return, Brooks is savoring his time with the starters.

"I'm getting good experience with the first team and learning how fast it is," Brooks said. "I'm getting some chemistry with my guys back there. I'm happy."

Many had projected Brooks to start at safety, which was considered one of the Ravens' top priorities entering the draft. The Ravens didn't re-sign last year's starter, James Ihedigbo, this offseason and only signed Darian Stewart, a part-time starter with the St. Louis Rams.

But there hasn't been much of a competition at free safety because Stewart has been solid and Brooks has needed time to absorb the playbook. As a result, Stewart has played nearly all of the snaps with the first-team defense and Brooks had been relegated to the third team.

"Jimbo [Fisher, Florida State head coach] taught us very well, and he instilled great values in us. It helped us with the transition," Brooks said. "But you really can't get a real feel until you get here. It was definitely pretty hard the first couple of weeks or so. I got more into it with the guys and how the system is played and the standard that coach [John] Harbaugh holds. It's been up from here, and I'm excited."

There have been signs of progress, especially during the joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers. Brooks isn't playing as tentative. He's playing fast -- and he was the fastest safety in this year's draft.

The Ravens rewarded Brooks by moving him to second-team free safety.

"He’s doing great," Harbaugh said. "He’s learning fast. Safeties have a long way to go as rookies, but he’s doing a good job. He’s going to play a lot this year, no doubt.”

This year's draft class has a chance to make an immediate impact. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is one of the top defensive rookies in the league, and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is going to play a big role in the Ravens' rotation up front.

Brooks is now showing signs that he can be a contributor as well.

“I think he's finally settling down and understanding,” Smith said. “The coaches stay with him a lot and help him out a lot on learning everything. It's difficult to learn our defense at safety, especially. He's making strides. He's making plays. He's a physical guy. He'll hit you. He's been strong the last few practices. I think the sky is the limit for that guy.”