A year ago, Lardarius Webb was an emerging lockdown cornerback considered dangerous enough that quarterbacks looked for other options before throwing in his direction.

Now, the Ravens veteran cornerback is adjusting to a different reality where offenses are actively targeting him.

It's been a major change for Webb since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last October while covering Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Regarded as a rising young NFL player who had entered Pro Bowl selection conversation last season, Webb is determined to work his way back.

"They're testing me a little bit more," Webb said. "I don't know why. Maybe because I'm coming off the ACL or maybe they're not seeing me play well, but they are coming."

Webb has been targeted a team-high 40 times through six games and has surrendered 25 receptions for 384 yards and one touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus.

Quarterbacks have completed 62.5 percent of their throws in Webb's direction. It's a stark contrast to Webb's metrics prior to getting hurt in the sixth game last season. At this same point last season, Webb had been targeted just 24 times for 11 catches, 111 yards and no scores.

"You can definitely see a difference in Webb from last year when he was one of the up-and-coming young players in the league and on his way to probably making the Pro Bowl before he hurt his knee," former Philadelphia Eagles scout John Middlekauff said. "The respect level for him was at an all-time high. I know these guys work incredibly hard to get back from these injuries, but they're not necessarily back to normal as soon as people expect them to be.

"I think people still respect him, but they're obviously going to try to pick on a guy coming off an injury because that's what everyone does. Webb has always been a physical player despite his size and he's tough. I think eventually he'll be fine, maybe even as soon as later this season."

Among NFL defensive backs, Webb ranks sixth from the bottom as far as total yards allowed in pass coverage. He's also given up 132 yards after the catch.

Despite the slow start, defensive coordinator Dean Pees isn't concerned about Webb's knee or his performance.

"I think he's all right," Pees said. "He's just getting back into playing, I don't want to say playing shape, playing mode, which sometimes takes a while. When you're playing all the time, your eyes are right. It's not so much physical. It's sometimes more your eyes and just that kind of thing. I have the utmost confidence in him."

Webb continues to be a sound tackler and remains aggressive in run support where he's thrown around his 5-foot-10, 182-pound body.

Teammates haven't seen any signs of Webb playing conservatively as he tries to regain his old form.

"I feel like Lardarius is doing great coming back from the knee injury and it doesn't seem like he's scared of his knee or anything like that," Ravens rookie free safety Matt Elam said. "That was a big knee injury to come back from, but I see aggressiveness and steady improving. He's going to make people pay if they keep trying him."

During the Ravens' 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, Webb hesitated for a moment and it cost him when wide receiver Jordy Nelson dashed past him for a 64-yard catch that was the first touchdown pass he's allowed since the 2010 season.

Webb attributed the breakdown to overreacting to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' play-action fake to running back Eddie Lacy. Webb said he was in quarters coverage and had anticipated safety help, but it never arrived as Elam was preoccupied with a crossing route by tight end Jermichael Finley.

"My eyes were somewhere they didn't need to be: in the backfield," Webb said. "Just keep them on my man. That's a play I'm supposed to be on top of. ... It's an uphill battle. I got to get better each day."

Webb had his knee surgically repaired last October by Dr. James Andrews, a renowned orthopedic surgeon.

And he hasn't displayed a loss of speed or ability to backpedal and cut, appearing to make a normal recovery.

Confidence doesn't appear to be a problem judging by Webb's attitude toward quarterbacks boldly challenging him without fear of consequence.

And he's looking forward to Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field where he'll be largely responsible for shadowing shifty wide receiver Antonio Brown.

"Just keep coming, man," said Webb, who has 28 tackles, no interceptions and five pass deflections. "In a while, they'll learn. Let them keep on game-planning me and coming at me. In a minute, [No.] 21 is going to rise. ..

"I'm baiting them. I guess they see a couple games where some guys are getting some catches. So, continue to come. I'm ready to take the challenge."

awilson@baltsun.com

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