Friday afternoon was Jimmy Smith’s first practice as a professional football player. That practice took place after three months of sitting around without coaching, and it comes less than six weeks before the Ravens begin the regular season.
It’s safe to say the odds appear to be stacked against any rookie coming into that type of situation and starting Week 1, especially one who plays on one of the highest-ranked defenses in the NFL.
Just don’t tell that to Smith. The Colorado product, who was selected with the 27th overall pick in April’s draft, believes that he’ll be on the field with Baltimore’s first-team defense when the Ravens open the season against the Steelers.
“I think so. I absolutely think so,” Smith said yesterday. “I mean, it’s definitely going to take some work. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I definitely think I could be a starter.”
Smith has the skill to become a key contributor on the Ravens’ defense early on, but he’ll have to overcome the obstacles which every rookie will face this year. The NFL lockout forced the cancellation of OTAs and minicamps - incredibly valuable learning sessions for young, inexperienced players - and made it so draft picks were unable to communicate with those who will be teaching them and determining who get the reps come the regular season.
Those are a couple of the reasons why head coach John Harbaugh is taking a more cautious approach when it comes to projecting Smith’s role this season.
“I think he has got a ways to go, just in a lot of ways,” Harbaugh said. “But we have a lot of work in front of us over camp. Obviously, he has all the tools. He has a really good attitude and he is a hard worker. I think he has to learn how to be a professional, and I am very certain he can do that.”
Smith took the field yesterday just hours after signing his rookie contract, and spent most of practice lined up with the second-team defense while cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Lardarius Webb took the reps with the “ones.”
The rookie cornerback appeared to have a decent day overall, breaking up a couple passes and hanging with wide receiver Anquan Boldin at times. Asked to address his first practice as a pro, Smith seemed pretty pleased with how he showed himself.
“A lot of the defenses, I ran in college, so I picked it up really quickly,” Smith said. “The schemes to me are simple. There’s a lot more install, so you have to remember a lot more. But I mean, I’ve got Webb out there like, ‘This is what it is,’ so I caught on quick. So once I got out and ran it a couple times, I pretty much got it.”
One adjustment Smith will have to make, he said, is getting used to a more physical breed of receiver. Smith excelled in bump-and-run coverage at the collegiate level, but he’ll have to learn to deal to play even tougher at the line of scrimmage in the pros to combat stronger receivers who run different styles of routes.
“They’re a little more physical,” Smith said of NFL receivers. “Usually, in college, they try to juke and get off the run. These receivers run right into you and throw you off of them. So for me, I mean, I like it. I like the physicality of it.
“I’ve got to get used to that. But, I think I did pretty good for the first day.”