Martin, Pittman and Prude competing for spot

WESTMINSTER -- Whenever they break a huddle, dine in the cafeteria or study film, Derrick Martin, David Pittman and Ronnie Prude are accompanied by something besides their teammates. There's a grim, usually unspoken reality that coincides with the reserve cornerbacks' daily activities at training camp. The job security they enjoyed a year ago is no longer the case.

The numbers game is already a topic of conversation at training camp even though final roster cuts aren't until Aug. 30.

"I wouldn't say it's an elephant in the room that we ignore," Martin said. "Everybody knows what's going on. This is probably one of the best defenses in the league.

"Everybody knows that they have a future here or outside of here. We just encourage each other to do our best."

If the Ravens keep six cornerbacks, then there's only one spot to be claimed by either Martin, Prude or Pittman. If they keep five, including starters Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle and veterans Fabian Washington, Corey Ivy and Frank Walker, then all three could be seeking NFL employment elsewhere.

"I'm pretty sure we all have that in our mind," Prude said. "We're all great competitors. May the best man win."

The acquisitions of Washington, a former Oakland Raiders starter, and Walker, a former Green Bay Packer signed to a $3.5 million contract that included a $1.25 million signing bonus, has coincided with significant improvement for Martin, Pittman and Prude.

Will it be enough?

Martin has honed his reactions and coverage skills, picking off several passes since camp started. He's listed ahead of Prude and Pittman on the depth chart.

"I think I'm playing some of my best football ever," Martin said. "Every time I'm out there, I'm making plays. I think the coaches are recognizing that. I'm wearing my contact lens, so I'm seeing the ball better now."

The former sixth-round draft pick started three games last season as he recorded a career-high 26 tackles, eight pass deflections, two interceptions and 17 special-teams tackles.

"I think it will come dow n to who can play the best on special teams," Martin said. "I feel I can separate myself that way."

Martin was exploited last year by quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, but that doesn't exactly make him uniq ue.

"I think I'm a more complete player now," Martin said. "I can play anywhere on the field and I think that works to my advantage."

Prude is a former undrafted free agent from LSU entering his third NFL season.

He has two career interceptions, but didn't pick off a pass in 15 games last season and was picked on by Arizona Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Prude intercepted a pass late in the Ravens' 16-15 preseason victory over the New England Patriots.

"Hopefully, that helps me out," Prude said. "I need to make more plays, so that's my mindset."

Prude is a smart, instinctive player, but doesn't have the same timed speed as Martin and Pittman.

"I feel like I gained a lot of speed," Prude said. "Back home, I did a lot of sandpit work and I feel pretty fast."

With eight special-teams tackles a year ago, Prude is hoping to make kick coverage his hallmark again.

"I think that can bring me over the hump," he said. "Everybody knows I can play defense, but the key for me being here is making an impact on special teams."

Pittman's situation has been complicated by a nagging foot injury that sidelined him during minicamps and has also bothered him periodically at camp..

"It was a long process to get back to where I am now," Pittman said.

A former third-round draft pick from Northwestern State (La.), Pittman has had a disappointing first two seasons. He's entering the final year of a $1.57 million contract that includes a $490,000 signing bonus.

Pittman intercepted two passes last year in his first career start against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds with good speed, Pittman may have the most upside. However, his adjustment from Division I-AA has been slow.

"When I first got here the game, was a little bit fast," Pittman said, "but now things are slowing down."

He has become more diligent in his work habits and increased the amount of time he spends studying film.

"I believe I have gotten better with my game, and off the field," Pittman said. "I am focused more on studying and trying to learn. I got a lot stronger and now I can be more physical with receivers."

With remaining preseason games against the Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons, this is the time for Martin, Pittman and Prude to create a lasting impression. Otherwise, their NFL dream could be interrupted or potentially halted altogether.

"We know that decisions are going to be made, but I don't think we spend too much time thinking about it," Pittman said. "You do your job and what the position requires. Nobody really worries about what's going to happen and what you can't control."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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