OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith made it a point not to talk about his surgically-repaired right foot last season.
Despite starting all 16 games after missing the second half of 2014 with a Lisfranc injury and the subsequent surgery, Smith’s play fell off in 2015 as he ranked 77th among qualified NFL cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Not wanting to make excuses last season but acknowledging he felt discomfort throughout the campaign, the 28-year-old had the surgical screws removed from his foot this spring in hopes that he will finally get back to being the player he was two years ago.
In 2015, Smith made 54 tackles, broke up 10 passes, and grabbed three interceptions — returning one for a touchdown in the 2015 season opener — but he struggled going up against the opposition’s No. 1 receiver on a weekly basis.
“I feel way better than I did last year,” said Smith, who signed a four-year, $41 million contract extension through the 2019 season last spring. “My foot is not even close to what it was last year. Now, it’s just getting back and knocking some rust off, but I feel good.”
Trying to rebound from a 5-11 season in which they set a single-season franchise low for interceptions with only six and ranked 27th in opponent passer rating, the Ravens are counting on Smith to bounce back in a major way. With pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil both on the wrong side of 30, Baltimore needs Smith as well as nose tackle Brandon Williams and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley to lead its next great defensive unit.
It’s been a quiet start to training camp for Smith, who missed spring workouts while recovering from the procedure and gave up a long touchdown to rookie Chris Moore on the second day of practice. The 2011 first-round pick has allowed some other completions here and there, but getting back to top form in time for the Sept. 11 opener is the primary goal.
Head coach John Harbaugh credited Smith’s determination in competing last season despite being at less than full strength and pointed out the unique challenge of playing the cornerback position where every mistake is magnified.
“It’s not like another position when you’re in the trenches and nobody sees it,” Harbaugh said. “For a corner not to be 100 percent — not to be as fast or as quick — is tough. That’s where we’ve got to get him to, and he’s working to get there. He’s 100 percent healthy. Now, if we can get all of the quickness, and the speed, and change of direction back to where it was, then we’ll have the Jimmy Smith that we all know.”
Harbaugh defends Richardson
The Ravens elected to move on from injured running back Trent Richardson on Tuesday, but Harbaugh went out of his way to defend the 2012 first-round pick, who has faced plenty of ridicule as his NFL career has fallen apart over the last few years.
“He’s definitely still on our radar. It’s amazing to me the vitriol and, really, the hate out there that people want to put out,” Harbaugh said. “All he’s done is come in here and work as hard as he can, and he’s got a [recovery from knee surgery], and we’re making a roster decision. He’s done nothing wrong. He’s still trying very hard. He’s just a young guy who’s trying his best to make it in this league. Because he was a top pick, I know that that definitely comes with more scrutiny.
“Certainly he understands that and he handles it really well, but he’s a good person, he wants to do well, and he’s a hard worker. There’s a possibility that sometime, someway, some fashion, he could come back here or somewhere else in the league.”
Of course, the Ravens frequently say they are leaving the door open for departed players to return in the future, but they currently have a 90-man roster with numerous individuals having no real chance of making the regular-season roster and still elected to let Richardson go.
Richardson went unclaimed off waivers on Wednesday.
Twelve players currently on the 90-man roster did not practice on Wednesday including tight ends Dennis Pitta (finger) and Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), wide receiver Chris Moore (foot), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (ribs), cornerbacks Will Davis (undisclosed) and Maurice Canady (undisclosed), and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee).
Wide receivers Steve Smith (Achilles) and Breshad Perriman (knee), linebackers Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Elvis Dumervil (foot), and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) remain on the active physically unable to perform list and have yet to practice during training camp.
With Dixon and Taliaferro still sidelined because of injuries, the Ravens were light at the running back position and signed Stephen Houston on Wednesday. The former undrafted free agent out of Indiana spent time with New England and Pittsburgh during training camp two years ago.
The Ravens waived left-footed punter Michael Palardy to make room on the roster.