Monday brings first adversity to Ravens’ near-flawless summer

August 20, 2018 | Luke Jones

You couldn’t have asked for a better start to the summer for the Ravens.

Despite a longer-than-usual training camp in preparation for the Hall of Fame Game, John Harbaugh’s team has avoided major injuries so far. By most accounts, the Ravens have practiced well on both sides of the ball with quarterback Joe Flacco in particular having his best preseason in years. Even the best teams face their share of questions this time of year, but the summer had been as close to flawless as one could hope with Baltimore aiming to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

But adversity finally arrived Monday before the Ravens improved to 3-0 in the preseason with a 20-19 win over Indianapolis.

Jimmy Smith was suspiciously absent during pre-game warmups before The Athletic reported the eighth-year cornerback is facing a potential multi-week suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The reason for the discipline remains unclear, but it possibly stems from a child custody case reported by The Sun last November that included accusations of domestic violence and illegal drug use. Smith did not face any criminal charges in the matter and denied the claims made by the mother of his first child.

Smith was scheduled to meet with league officials Monday as part of the appeal process, per The Athletic.

Harbaugh offered few details when asked about the veteran corner’s absence following the game. Smith has made an impressive return to the field after suffering a torn Achilles tendon last December, taking part in all but a few summer practices and playing nine snaps in the second preseason game on Aug. 9.

“A personal issue he was taking care of,” Harbaugh said, “so he was excused.”

Without knowing the circumstances leading to the discipline and speaking strictly from a football standpoint, Smith’s absence would be a difficult one for the Ravens to endure, but it’s one they’ve gotten used to dealing with in recent years. The oft-injured defensive back has played in all 16 games just twice in his first seven seasons and missed a total of 26 regular-season contests, the reason why he’s never achieved Pro Bowl status despite extended periods of strong play at various times in his career.

Smith’s season-ending Achilles tear last December was also accompanied by a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He said earlier this summer the failed test came from an unapproved pre-workout supplement.

Without Smith, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale would turn to dependable veteran Brandon Carr and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, the same duo who started when Smith was lost last December. Returning slot cornerback Tavon Young and versatile third-year corner Maurice Canady would serve as the primary backups with 2018 fourth-round pick Anthony Averett also showing promise in his first training camp. It’s no secret the pass defense has struggled without Smith in recent seasons, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has gone to great lengths to improving the depth at the position in recent offseasons.

Smith’s potential suspension could explain why the Ravens recently expressed interest in free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland, a move that appeared peculiar because of their depth at the position. It remains unclear whether Baltimore would make a stronger push to sign the former Washington starter when — and if — a suspension becomes official.

The Ravens also faced their most significant injury scare of the preseason Monday night when an Indianapolis player fell into the right knee of starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the first quarter. The 2016 first-round pick was able to walk off the field and didn’t return, but it appears he avoided serious injury and was walking around on the sideline without the use of crutches later in the game.

“It’s not any kind of big tear. It’s a strain,” Harbaugh said. “I was told during the game a knee strain. I’m sure they’ll look at that more, but they are usually pretty darn accurate with those things.”

Stanley will have close to three weeks to get ready for the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo, but his absence was a reminder of how tenuous the offensive line depth is as the Ravens try to figure out their best starting combination and identify two or three other reliable backups. Rookie sixth-round pick Greg Senat filled in at left tackle, but it’s unclear how Baltimore would proceed if Stanley were to miss any game action. James Hurst and Alex Lewis have filled in for Stanley in the past, but neither inspires much confidence at the position and both are better suited to play guard.

Six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has yet to play in the preseason, but he is on track to be ready for Week 1.

The Ravens appeared to make it through another preseason win with Stanley being their only injury concern, but the Smith news provided the first real dent to their prospects for the new season.

Baltimore can only hope its cornerback depth will answer the challenge.