Kicking off EbonyBird.com’s Ravens Award Week for the 2009 season will be two slightly similar awards, Top Rookie and Top Newcomer. Top Rookie is simple, the top rookie on this year’s team, whether drafted or undrafted. Top Newcomer is a bit different. It’s the top player that the Ravens brought in this offseason who was not a rookie, so in simple terms, the top free agent addition.
Ravens 2009 Top Rookie: Lardarius Webb, Cornerback, Nicholls State, Drafted 3rd Round: Although Michael Oher is the sexy pick here, being the subject of a box office hit and being nominated for NFL Rookie of The Year, Webb meant more to the team when they really needed him. Adding a much-needed flair and playmaking ability to an otherwise average secondary, Webb was always making good, smart plays in important moments. The 3-time All-American at Nicholls State set the tone for a big 2nd half comeback against the Denver Broncos in Week 8 with a kickoff return for a touchdown, and exceeded expactations filling in for Fabian Washington after Week 11. When Washington was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL, Webb stepped up, made plays, avoided the Ravens-friendly pass interferences and outplayed veteran Domonique Foxworth. His success led to some great performances by the secondary and Webb quickly became a fan favorite. Coincidentally, a torn ACL ended his season, but Lardarius Webb’s contribution to putting the Ravens in playoff position is easy to see, and his future prospects with the team are exciting, to say the least.
Top Newcomer: Matt Birk, Center, 33 years old, played 11 years with Vikings: While Domonique Foxworth has a compelling argument with the way he played down the stretch, the obvious pick here is the proven veteran Birk.
Brought in after 11 incredible years in Minnesota, Birk was a great teacher for a young offensive line, including rookie Michael Oher and became respected in the locker room, by fans and by the media. Although his exact teaching methods and results are unknown, it’s inevitable that Birk’s influence on Oher, Jared Gaither and Joe Flacco was a positive one and will benefit them. Beyond his experience and teachings, Birk was as solid a center as the Ravens have ever had. Opening up holes for Ray Rice, protecting for and communicating with Joe Flacco, and pushing the pile during short yardage situations were just a few of Birk’s many contributions to the Ravens offense. Birk’s signing was just another example of Ozzie Newsome’s brilliance in free agency.
Tomorrow: Most Improved Player