Baxter and Fuller shifting back and forth

OWINGS MILLS - The Baltimore Ravens consider their dilemma about how to configure their secondary a fine problem to have. After four days of experimenting with Gary Baxter at free safety and Corey Fuller at cornerback as passing camp closed Thursday, the coaching staff predicted a summer of shifting for the starting candidates. Both players have stated a preference toward remaining at cornerback, but have vowed not to let that desire overshadow what's best for the defense.

The fact that both players have already formed a strong bond bodes well for the competition.

"Junior, you got safety right?" Fuller quipped in a loud voice across the locker room to Baxter. "Seriously, Gary is a natural at both positions and looks comfortable at safety. Wherever we play, it's going to work itself out."

Based on early returns, Baxter appeared at home at a position he hadn't played since his college days at Baylor. Baxter gained ground on receivers through a combination of anticipation and acceleration. He has ideal size for safety and established himself in run support a year ago as the Ravens' second-leading tackler.

"Gary is a smart, talented player who understands the game," strong safety Ed Reed said. "Whether it's Gary or Corey next to me or someone else, I think we will be a great tandem. They are both excellent football players."

Baxter has one season as a starting cornerback opposite franchise player Chris McAlister, and had his moments with 20 pass deflections, an interception and 90 tackles.

The former second-round pick also held towering Pittsburgh Steelers' wideout Plaxico Burress to three receptions for 52 yards in the Ravens' season finale.

Baxter is unsure whether he had performed so adeptly at safety this week that he might have the coaches leaning toward keeping him there.

"Wherever they put me, I'm going to be happy," Baxter said. "Somebody upstairs has a hard decision to make, but it's very much a compliment to me to be training to do both. "If I can put pressure on those guys as to what I am, that's a great situation for me. Whatever happens, I won't be hurt. I'm not trying to make this a big thing."

Released by the Cleveland Browns in a cost-cutting move this winter, Fuller has always played cornerback except for one year at safety during the expansion Browns' inaugural season. Fuller will work some at safety at next week's minicamp.

Entering his ninth year, Fuller has earned a reputation as a feisty tackler capable of sticking with elite wide receivers.

"I didn't come here to step on any toes, but I know they didn't bring me here to sit on the bench," Fuller said. "I'll do whatever it takes, but I don't want to hurt the team at safety when I know I can help them at corner."

Ravens coach Brian Billick cautioned about reading too much into who plays where at this early juncture.

"It's in and out and that's not done," he said. "The best four are going to be out there in whatever configuration that is."

A year ago, secondary coach Donnie Henderson coaxed a young group into allowing just 16 touchdown passes with 25 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks had a cumulative rating of 73.4. Now, the Ravens appear to have a much stronger hand to play.

"If I make that switch, we could be the best two safeties in the league because we're young and who knows what the future may hold," Baxter said. "We're going to be a good secondary regardless of who plays where because of the chemistry and talent that we have."

NOTES: Rookie outside linebacker Terrell Suggs missed drills again with back spasms, but said he felt better enough that he expects to take part in next week's practices. … Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Frank Sanders didn't attend the voluntary camp. Sanders' wife is expecting… Two representatives of a Japanese football league visited practice.

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