For Haruki Nakamura and Marcus Smith, this preseason marks the beginning of a second NFL career.
Both third-year players are coming off devastating injuries last season (a broken ankle for Nakamura and a torn ACL for Smith) which sent them on long rehab paths and left them uncertain how healthy they would be at the start of the 2010 campaign.
Judging by both their performances last night in the Ravens' 24-10 win over the Giants, I'd say Nakamura and Smith are just fine.
Nakamura, a safety out of Cincinnati, has been flying all over the field throughout training camp and the preseason, making plays deep in coverage, pressuring the quarterback at the line of scrimmage, and contributing on special teams as well.
Last night, he had a well-rounded stat line: a tackle, a quarterback hit, four passes defensed, and a diving interception where he followed a tipped pass and sprawled on top of Giants wide receiver Steve Smith to make the pick.
"How about that interception?" head coach John Harbaugh said after the game. "That's as good a play as you're ever going to see. I don't know how he came up with the ball. He's just a tremendous athlete. He's a football player through and through, and he's a big part of our football team, no doubt."
Not surprisingly, Nakamura had a different perspective on the diving interception.
"I was about as lucky as I could get right there," Nakamura said. "The receiver had shook the heck out of me right there. He made me look so bad. It was one of those things where I was trying to finish the play. The ball bobbled, and I just got lucky. They always preach 'run to the ball, run to the ball no matter what happens, and good things happen."
While Nakamura had arguably his best game of the preseason, Smith did as well. The wide receiver made four grabs for 29 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
Known as one of the Ravens' top special teams players, Smith's offensive production last night was huge. The more he can show that he's improved in that aspect of the game, the better chance he has of making the 53-man roster.
"I worked my butt off to get back [and] I worked on little things at wide receiver, just to better myself coming back to the team," Smith said. "It was hard for me to come back off that injury. I was trying to better myself as a receiver. I'm just trying to find my role.
"I know we have guys in here, and now that Donte' [Stallworth] is down a couple of weeks now, that was a really big play for me."
While Nakamura has locked up a roster spot, Smith still has some work to do. But regardless of the outcome, both guys are thrilled to be back healthy, playing the game they love.
"I'm just out here having fun," Nakamura said. "Through this injury, I've learned to appreciate this game for what it is. This is a privilege for us to be out there."