When Ed Reed left the Baltimore Ravens three years ago, the fear of throwing deep against this defense also departed.
In Reed's final three seasons with the Ravens, Baltimore allowed six completions on passes of 40 yards or longer. Only four teams gave up fewer.
In three seasons without Reed, the Ravens allowed 17 completions on those deep passes. That's two more than any other team in the league.
Baltimore, which opens training camp Thursday, addressed the need to limit big pass plays by making changes at the safety position this offseason, when it signed Eric Weddle in free agency and moved Lardarius Webb from cornerback.
Does Weddle and Webb feel the pressure of filling that Ed Reed void?
"Ed Reed is a legend. Ed Reed will always be the standard that, as players, we look up to and strive to be like," Weddle said. "I'm not Ed Reed. I'm Eric Weddle, and you're going to get a great Eric Weddle that does a lot of amazing things on the football field. And there's no pressure; pressure is self-inflicted. I want to be great. I want to be the best. I want to help my team win, and this is a winning organization, so there's no added pressure."
The Ravens were right not to overpay to keep Reed, who bounced around from the Houston Texans to the New York Jets in his final NFL season. But Baltimore has yet to adequately solidify the safety spot.
The result has been continued struggles against deep passes. Since Reed has been gone, the Ravens have given up 23 touchdowns on passes of 20 yards or longer, which is the third most in the NFL over that span.
In an attempt to upgrade, Baltimore decided to replace last year's starters at safety: suspended Will Hill and inconsistent Kendrick Lewis. The Ravens signed Weddle to a four-year, $26 million deal in March, and they shifted Webb and his team-high $5.5 million base salary to safety.
Webb, who always looked up to Reed, said he has kept in touch with his former teammate -- to an extent. Reed is now the assistant defensive backs coach with the Buffalo Bills, who open the season in Baltimore.
"So I don't want to tell him too much about what's going on up here," Webb said with a smile. "I always talk to him and watch his old film. He was a different type of player -- one of the greats. He was just a smart player. Me, I just want to get the hang of it first. I don't want to be jumping stuff I shouldn't be jumping -- things that he used to do, but made great plays. I just want to learn the position."
How Weddle and Webb work together could determine the effectiveness of a pass defense that allowed a franchise-worst 30 touchdown passes and intercepted an NFL-worst six throws.
"One of the pluses that we have with both Eric and Lardarius, who are two guys that you might call free safeties in the way that it has been over the years," coach John Harbaugh said. "You can bring both these guys down, and they can blitz and bring it really effectively. So, you're not going to know who's down and who's deep. That can be a big benefit for a defense."