Last week, playing on national television and in front of about 40 friends and family members from his hometown of Colton, Calif., rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith got roasted.
He’ll readily admit it.
Seeing his first significant playing time of the season, Smith was beaten on a few big plays deep down the field in the Ravens’ 34-14 loss to San Diego, including a 28-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Malcom Floyd early in the third quarter which essentially put the game out of reach.
Instead of sulking over his poor performance, however, Smith went back to work. The Ravens’ first-round pick in this year’s draft studied tape from the Chargers loss, picked up on some errors in his play and then applied that knowledge Saturday against the Browns.
The result was a much smoother performance, one which left Smith sporting a subdued smile in the locker room after the game.
“Philip Rivers is an elite quarterback,” said Smith, reflecting back to the beatdown in San Diego. “He knew when to check, what to do. Hats off to him. He schemed me, and it was great. I learned. I looked at that game, and I saw the plays, but at the same time, I saw why they got them. They’re great players, but it was because I had bad technique on certain things and I didn’t play things the right way. So it was just going back and learning.”
Sounds pretty mature for a 23-year-old rookie, doesn’t he? But wait, it gets better. I asked Smith if he feels like that experience against the Chargers in some way was a positive, in that it served as a teaching experience and awoke him to what life in the NFL can be like.
Smith paused for a second before responding.
“It’s something you don’t want to go through, but you have to go through,” he said. “Now that I’ve seen it, I don’t want to let it happen again, so I ain’t going to let it happen again.”
It’s been an interesting rookie season for Smith, a guy who was selected with the 27th pick in April’s draft and was expected to contribute heavily early on. The NFL lockout wiped out his chance to pick up any of the Ravens’ defensive system prior to training camp, and groin and ankle injuries limited his practice reps in camp and then essentially forced him to sit out the season’s first five games.
As a result, Smith has had to play catch-up the last 10 weeks, and he’s still picking things up as he goes along.
“First year, no OTAs, injured, now I’m out on the field learning,” Smith said. “I feel like I’ve got it now. I’m still learning, obviously. I haven’t faced elite quarterbacks up to this point besides Philip Rivers, so it’s all a learning process.”
In Saturday’s win over Cleveland, Smith didn’t play lights-out, but he more than held his own against a poor Browns passing attack. The Ravens’ corner allowed some receptions underneath, but he limited the big plays down the field, knocked down a pass and recorded seven tackles, third-most on the team.
“I felt it was good, because even though last week I got hit on some big plays, it was me going back and seeing what happened,” Smith said. “It was a few plays I had to fix and just figure out what they saw. I looked back on film and saw me undercutting routes, pressing a lot, sometimes not moving my feet, and that’s when they got those plays last week.
“I think going into (the Browns) week, I just focused on moving my feet, making sure I’m watching the receiver, that type of stuff. Just basically trying to fine-tune my technique.”
With starting cornerback Cary Williams having suffered a concussion against the Browns, there’s a chance Smith will start again this Sunday at Cincinnati. If that’s the case, it could serve as yet another chance for us to watch the evolution of a young, talented cornerback.