OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The return of cornerback Jimmy Smith to the practice field on Thursday was a welcome sight for the Ravens after selecting the rookie with the 27th overall pick in April’s draft.
However, those expecting Smith to step right into the lineup and replace Lardarius Webb or Cary Williams as one of the starting cornerbacks might be setting unrealistic expectations. After injuring his left ankle early in the first quarter against Pittsburgh in the regular-season opener on Sept. 11, the progress Smith had made during the preseason in adjusting to the speed of the game has been stunted after a five-week layoff.
Smith appeared on his way to earning a starting position in the secondary early in the season before he was injured covering a kickoff in the first quarter against the Steelers.
“It’ll be tough again,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. “It’s like starting all over again with him. Throw him out there and see where he’s at and see how he continues to progress throughout the weekend and see Monday night where he’s at. He’ll be OK. He’ll do a good job.”
Smith practiced on a limited basis on Thursday, and conventional wisdom says the Ravens would prefer giving him more practice time before sending him back on the field in game action. The Jaguars’ passing offense is ranked last in the NFL with rookie Blaine Gabbert earning on-the-job experience.
However, Pagano was impressed with the Colorado product’s maturity in handling the high ankle sprain — the first significant injury of his athletic career — and preparation he spent on weekly opponents even though he knew he would be out for an extended period of time.
“The mental part of it, he did a great job,” Pagano said. “He was in every meeting taking notes and prepared as if he was going to play. He looks pretty good. Like anything, it’s like starting over; you’ve got to knock the rust off a little bit and trust the ankle that it is healed. Playing the position that he plays, there’s a lot of starting and stopping and those types of things. He looks good.”
With veteran Chris Carr joining Smith in returning to the practice field on Thursday, the Ravens finally appear to be getting healthy in the secondary after a plethora of early-season injuries. The ideal target for having both players ready to play without limitation would be two weeks from now, when the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh for a rematch with the Steelers on Nov. 6.