Smith sidesteps adversity

Jacksonville Jaguars

September 07, 2001

For the first time since he became one of the NFL's top receivers, there were questions surrounding Jimmy Smith this preseason.

Smith, the cornerstone of the Jacksonville Jaguars' passing game the past five years, had two off-season abdominal operations that hospitalized him for a total of 35 days.

He lost 20 pounds but gained it back shortly before training camp. If Smith can regain his form - the one he used to lead the league with 450 catches for 6,599 yards the past five years - the season may not be as long as many are predicting it will be for the Jaguars.

The question is, how much did the surgeries, combined with his age (32), take out of him? Early returns indicate Smith could become one of the feel-good stories of the early season.

In his first game action since the surgeries, Smith caught a team-high five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars' 28-23 preseason win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 24. His first catch was the touchdown.

"It was almost like a script," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. "First time he catches it, it's in the end zone. It was pretty special."

Especially so for Coughlin, who reportedly spent many nights at Smith's bedside.

"There were a lot of people who didn't think I would make it, but I just kept the faith, had a lot of good people around me, and everybody was pulling for me," Smith said.

In addition to Smith, the Jaguars will need his receiving partner, Keenan McCardell, quarterback Mark Brunell and a healthy running back Fred Taylor to put up major points and bail out a suspect defense.

Jaguars vs. Ravens

Key for Ravens: Before the first game, the Ravens should take a gander at their overall record against Jacksonville. A 2-8 mark should wipe away any overconfidence in facing the suddenly downtrodden Jaguars.

Biggest headache: Jimmy Smith. He may give the Ravens' defense more problems than anybody else in the league. The Ravens swept the series last year, but Smith still had 23 catches for 386 yards and three touchdowns.

Stat to watch: Mark Brunell is the only quarterback rated among the NFL's top 11 passers in each of the past five seasons.

Brian Billick's impression: "Jacksonville is a very, very talented team - still as talented as any team in the league. Like every team, they are worried about depth. If they can stay healthy, they will be a challenge to the playoffs and beyond."

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