Jimmy Smith entered the NFL with plenty of baggage, but the only… (Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore…)
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith strolled into the locker room this week looking like a man without a concern in the world, right up until the second he realized a reporter was standing in front of his locker, notebook in hand. Smith leaned his head back, sized up his inquisitor, and raised his eyebrows with skepticism.
"Ah man, don't tell me you're waiting to talk to me," he said.
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air for a few seconds, before Smith smiled to reveal he was joking. He was happy to sit and chat, to talk about his possible start Sunday night in San Diego. He just enjoys poking fun at his reputation as someone who is difficult to deal with, someone who spent a month leading up to the NFL draft hearing about what a bad person he was.
In some respects, the draft seems like it happened years ago. And all the concerns and questions about Smith's "character issues" look — at least thus far — like much ado about nothing. The Ravens' first round pick has had a wild rookie season, but not because of anything he's done off the field. He's been injured, he's picked off passes, and he's been burned for touchdowns — but away from football his life has been quiet and controversy free.
Not bad for someone who, in a pre-draft survey done by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, had at least 11 general managers anonymously declare they wouldn't even consider drafting him in the second round, much less the first, because of issues he had in college.
Even Smith says he understands now why he fell to 27th overall pick after reports of multiple failed drug tests and two arrests in alcohol-related incidents.
"I always knew what I was capable of and what my intentions were," Smith said. "But, to be honest, it's kind of hard to go against my track record when I was in college. So I understand why teams did what they did. At first it was tough [falling in the draft]. It was a blow money-wise, but I'm way more happy here [in Baltimore] than I think I would have been anywhere else. I'm really glad I ended up here."
The Ravens are just as glad, and that's especially true this week as Smith is a virtual lock to start in place of an injured Lardarius Webb. Even if Webb's turf toe were to miraculously recover by Sunday — unlikely considering he's been in a walking boot all week and hasn't practiced — the Ravens will still rely heavily on Smith as they try to slow down a potent San Diego Chargers passing attack. Games like this, where Baltimore has to cover a pair of tall, fast, athletic wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, are the reason the Ravens decided to roll the dice and draft the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith. No one has ever questioned his talent.
Smith was hoping to show everyone what he could do much sooner. But suffering a high ankle sprain on the opening kickoff of the year pushed the pause button on what everyone assumed was going to be a stellar rookie season.
"I thought I broke it when it happened," Smith said. "I heard it pop, and on my way down to the ground I thought 'Well, I'm done for the year.' I couldn't believe it. When they told me it was a high sprain, I was actually excited about it. I knew I'd be back this season at the least."
Smith's injury, however, couldn't help but make Ravens fans a little nervous. How would he handle all that idle time? Would frustration lead to temptation and prompt another headache? In 2010, Sergio Kindle was injured in a fall prior to training camp, and as he dealt with the disappointment of missing the season, he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. No one wanted to see two high picks in a row struggle with issues away from the field.
"Being injured and being the number one choice, there was a lot of pressure," Smith said. "I was here for a reason, and I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn't particularly worried. He insisted, as he does for all his injured players, that Smith attend every meeting, come to every practice and eat at every team meal. It was important for Smith to get treatment, but he still had to prepare every week as if he were 100 percent healthy. Not every NFL team has that policy, but it's important to the Ravens.
Harbaugh made it a point to talk to Smith a bit more than normal because he didn't want the rookie to feel frustrated that he wasn't contributing, but he says he was confident Smith wasn't going to let anyone down, regardless of what his reputation was prior to the draft.
"The questions about Jimmy turned out to be unfounded," Harbaugh said. "When we did our homework on him, we felt like, 'Wow, this guy is a really great kid. He's a really humble guy. He's intelligent, he's conscientious.' And the good thing is, it turned out we were right. I think we do have a great support system and good role models, but he's a good person."