Heading into training camp, you could make a case that cornerback Jimmy Smith is the most important player on the Ravens’ defense. The Ravens’ secondary was never the same last season after Smith went down with a season-ending foot injury in Week 8. That secondary became the most vulnerable part of the Ravens’ defense -one that Tom Brady and the Patriots picked apart in January during the playoffs.
Smith told BaltimoreRavens.com that watching the playoff loss to the Patriots was difficult.
“I feel like if I was out there, it would have been a little bit different,” Smith said. “I feel like I could have made some plays to get us in the Super Bowl. That sits in the back of my head.”
The Ravens recognized his importance by signing Smith to a four-year, $48 million contract extension during the offseason. Before his injury, Smith was playing the best football of his career. Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com compiled his list of the NFL’s top 100 players, and put Smith at No. 91.
If Smith puts together a full season like his start to 2014, I think he should be ranked even higher. Smith’s ability to matchup with top receivers one-on-one takes pressure off the entire secondary, and allows defensive coordinator Dean Pees to dial up some coverages and blitzes that he can’t use when Smith isn’t available.
The Ravens will see several of the NFL’s top receives next season, including Antonio Brown of the Steelers (twice), A. J. Green of the Bengals (twice), and Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders of the Broncos.
Smith relishes those kinds of matchups, knowing that playing well in those games only raises his national profile. The Ravens head into training camp already knowing what Smith is capable of. Their main goal for Smith during training camp can be summed up in two words – stay healthy.