Jimmy Smith making progress heading into second NFL season

Jimmy_Smith1

OWINGS MILLS — Jimmy Smith stood tall across from Torrey Smith, squaring his shoulders before backpedaling smoothly and flipping his hips to run stride for stride with the speedy wide receiver.

Although Jimmy Smith didn’t always maintain tight coverage on the Baltimore Ravens’ top deep threat, he did a respectable job overall Wednesday during an organized team practice at team headquarters.

One year into his NFL career, Jimmy Smith is displaying signs of progress following a solid rookie campaign where there were flashes of the potential the Ravens identified in him at the University of Colorado before drafting him in the first round.

Big, strong and fast at 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, Smith represents the prototype for a potential shutdown cornerback.

Rather than simply rely upon his raw talent, though, Smith is trying to harness his natural ability and apply himself to win a starting job.

"I feel like I can get better in every aspect of the game," Smith said. "I don’t think I am perfect at any part. So, every day I just go out and work on my technique, my speed, my vision. I am supposed to be good at press coverage, so I work on that, too. Every part of my game, I think, can be better.”

Hardly satisfied with 20 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass deflections in a dozen games and three starts last season for the defending AFC North champions, Smith has dropped roughly 15 pounds since last season.

His goal is to upgrade his speed, lateral mobility, backpedal and change of direction skills.

"People are fast up here," Smith said. "That’s the one thing I really took from last year is that speed really kills up here. That’s something I have been working on."

Smith never got into optimal condition last season due to the work stoppage that preceded the season and his ankle injury.

Now, he’s noticeable leaner.

"I think the weight was kind of the non-offseason, and then flying around to teams [before the NFL draft], eating a lot and then just jumping right into camp," Smith said. "I was a little out of shape and my weight was heavier. This year, we had a chance to work out, so my weight has been level. It’s been the same, 200 pounds.”

Unlike a year ago during the NFL lockout where Smith didn’t have the benefit of working out at the Ravens’ training complex or coaching prior to training camp, he’s able to take advantage of a full offseason this spring.

"I think this helps out tremendously, because we didn’t get this last year," Smith said. "Rookies last year kind of got thrown in the fire. This time, we get to learn the defense a lot more, get the plays down, get a feel for everything, the tempo, the speed. So, I think it helps, especially our class, out a lot this year.”

Smith is slated to compete with Cary Williams for the starting cornerback assignment opposite Lardarius Webb, the Ravens’ top cornerback and $50 million man.

Williams is coming off hip surgery this offseason to repair a torn labrum. He returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday and is expected to be fully recovered by training camp to try to hold onto his spot.

"I just think I am going to go out there, compete and do my best," Smith said. "I am not really worried about who is going to be the starter or not. I know I am going to be playing, so my job right now is just to make sure I can do whatever helps the team.”

Smith missed four games after suffering a high-ankle sprain during his NFL regular-season debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Smith had his moments, including an acrobatic interception of Tom Brady in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.

His interception against the Cincinnati Bengals in a November game led to a Ravens touchdown.

“He can make a huge step,” Webb said. “With his talent, his knowledge, I think he’s going to be a Pro Bowl corner coming up next year.”

Mostly, Smith relied on his athleticism as a rookie.

The Ravens are excited about Smith’s upside, believing he’s capable of a breakthrough season as his fundamentals and strategic ability get better.

"I expect greatness from Jimmy Smith," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He expects that from himself. Jimmy has worked really, really hard. Again, it’s another guy that is showing off in the way he is playing.

"He is becoming a technician out there in this offseason. He’s got all the tools, very humble, hardworking guy. The sky is the limit for Jimmy.”

During a 34-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers where Webb was out with a toe injury, Smith got picked on by quarterback Philip Rivers. He went after Smith several times and connected with Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson.

He was also beaten for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.

"Just to add onto what I did last year, get better, learn the game more," Smith said when asked where he’s improved. "There is still a lot I have to learn, but I think I can improve on a lot of things. I’m bringing whatever I can to the table.”

At times, Smith was susceptible to double moves.

Strong in bump and run coverage techniques, Smith’s best gambit was to jam a receiver in the chest to use his upper body strength and throw off the timing of a pattern.

"I have been double-moved before," Smith said. "It’s just technique, eyes. It’s really just being focused in the game at that particular moment.”

Smith has been gaining knowledge from more experienced defensive backs, especially Webb and Williams.

“I look up to them a lot, because they have been in the league for a little while, a couple more years than I have," he said. "I take little parts of their game and add it to my game and listen to what they say.”

The Ravens have placed a lot of confidence in Smith, who avoided off-field problems as a rookie after a string of character issues during his time at Colorado caused him to fall in the draft.

Now, the California native is intent on proving the Ravens were wise to take a calculated gamble on him.

As Harbaugh said, the Ravens anticipate a lot from Smith.

“I expect the same out of myself," Smith said. "It’s tough out here, so I just think that what they say, it’s a little bit of pressure, but not too much. I think I can handle it.”

 

This entry was posted in The Beat with Aaron Wilson by Aaron Wilson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson
Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best...more

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