Jimmy Smith learning on the fly
OWINGS MILLS – Jimmy Smith has already learned one of the most important aspects of his job as a starting NFL cornerback: how to forget.
The Baltimore Ravens' prize rookie first-round draft pick had a rough sequence last week during the end of the first half of a 34-31 win over the Washington Redskins.
Due to a miscommunication with All-Pro free safety Ed Reed and not reacting quickly enough to bump outside against a trips package, Smith found himself trailing Santana Moss as the wide receiver scooted into the end zone for a touchdown.
Instead of dwelling on that mistake, Smith has already moved on.
"You definitely forget about it," Smith said. "You don't live in the past. I think I'm getting gradually better. Each game, I learn something new. At this point, I'm not exactly where I want to be. I just play full-speed with no thoughts or worries about making a mistake."
The Ravens are preparing Smith to be an immediate starter in his first NFL game Sept. 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.
If Smith builds on a mostly encouraging preseason and sharpens his technique, then he'll play a significant role all season.
"If I was starting the first game, I would feel comfortable," Smith said. "Just the level of trust the coaches have in me, the amount of effort I put out on the practice field, the number of plays getting them corrected and making sure I don't mess up any calls. I just play full-speed with no thoughts or worries."
As the Ravens get ready for their preseason finale Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, Smith won't have the luxury of sitting out a meaningless contest.
Due to the NFL lockout, immediate rookie contributors like Smith need all the work they can get.
"I don't really have any expectations,"Smith said. "I know I'm going to go out there and play. I expect myself to go out there and not make any mistakes and try not to have anybody catch any balls on me."
Big, fast and strong at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Smith still needs to improve his football awareness.
He had Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl wide receiver Dwayne Bowe closely guarded earlier this month, but allowed a long reception because he failed to make a play on the football.
It's unclear if Smith will be able to test himself Thursday night against Falcons star wide receiver Roddy White or rookie standout Julio Jones.
"Whoever lines up ahead of me is who I look forward to playing against," Smith said.
Where Smith's game is today is unlikely where he'll finish the season in terms of performance.
"I think I've progressed," Smith said. "I'm definitely making strides. I feel comfortable, period, knowing the defense like the back of my hand. Not making any mental errors."
Smith is already getting indoctrinated into the AFC North blood rivalry between the Ravens and the Steelers.
"I know that they hate each other," Smith said. "Ray Lewis tells me every day that if you never hated somebody so much, hate the Steelers. I know it's one of the best rivalries in the NFL. There's going to be blood."
And Smith already knows that he needs to have his helmet on a swivel when lined up against combative Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, one of the most devastating downfield blockers in the league.
The rookie from Colorado is downright savvy.
"I knew about Hines Ward before I even got up here," Smith said. "I know how he plays. I know he's like rated the worst in the NFL. You definitely have to keep your eyes peeled when you're dealing with a player like that."
Notebook: Ravens planning to play starting offensive line in Atlanta
OWINGS MILLS – In a contrast to previous years, the Baltimore Ravens are currently planning to play several offensive starters during a preseason finale Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons.
That would include quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens' new-look offensive line consisting of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, left guard Ben Grubbs, center Matt Birk, right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher.
"Yeah as of now, I think I will," said Flacco, who hasn't played in the fourth preseason game for the past two years. "I don't know how much."
McKinnie was just signed last week to a two-year deal worth up to $7.5 million.
Birk missed the first three preseason games after undergoing knee surgery.
Yanda has been sidelined with back spasms.
And Oher is moving over from left tackle.
Grubbs is the lone lineman to play ever preseason game at his usual spot.
"Any work is good work," Grubbs said. "They call our number, we'll be ready."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh declined to get into any specifics when asked how he'll utilize his starters against Atlanta.
The lack of preparation time due to the NFL lockout wiping out the entire offseason is a factor in the decision.
"We'll see," Harbaugh said. "That's my thoughts on it. We're just going to see how we're going to handle it. It's really to be determined.
"We've talked about it and we're going to figure it out, but it is different and that's why it's not as cut and dry as it usually is."
Building timing with the offensive line, though, could be a valuable reason to do something out of the box.
"It would help, it'd be better than them not playing, but there's risks involved with that," Harbaugh said. "So, that's the dilemma."
BIG GAME: This marks a big game for veteran wide receiver James Hardy.
The former Buffalo Bill second-round pick hasn't played in any preseason games and has rarely practiced due to a chronic hamstring injury.
He has been practicing this week and is expected to play extensively against the Falcons. It's his last shot to impress the coaching staff and earn a roster spot.
"We just haven't seen him, and it's no fault of his own," Harbaugh said. "He's worked really hard to get that hamstring back. The trainers will tell you, he's been a model citizen in there. But this was a big camp for him and he missed it. So, this is his one shot."
LAWRENCE PLACED ON IR: Running back Matt Lawrence was placed on injured reserve due to a concussion, ending his season and getting the Ravens down to the NFL roster limit of 80 players.
This marks the third year in a row that the former University of Massachusetts player has been placed on injured reserve.
Lawrence missed last season due to a knee injury after beginning the year on the physically unable to perform list.
The Ravens could opt to remove Lawrence from injured reserve and shed his salary by negotiating an injury settlement.
INJURY UPDATES: Wide receiver Lee Evans (left foot) didn't practice for the third day in a row.
Cornerback Chris Carr (left hamstring) and offensive lineman Mark LeVoir (undisclosed) didn't practice for the second consecutive day.
LeVoir's unspecified injury isn't believed to be serious and he's expected to return soon.
QUICK HITS: Once Flacco and rookie Tyrod Taylor are out of the game, the coaches plan to look at third quarterback Hunter Cantwell.
"You just look for him to play well," Harbaugh said."He's made some throws and he's gotten better in practice. I'd like to see that show up in a game.
"Run the offense, make the protection adjustments, all those different things.It's a great opportunity for Hunter, just like all the other guys." …
This is the Ravens' first road trip of the season where they have to board an airplane to get there.
"For the veterans, it's no big deal," Harbaugh said. "For the young guys, it'll be interesting for them. That's a loud stadium even in the preseason. We've been there before. For the guys that make the team, it's really important because they'll understand how that works now for the regular season." …
The Ravens didn't use offensive guard Jason Murphy against the Redskins after signing him to a one-year deal.
He's slated to play a lot against the Falcons, though.
"This is my chance, really," said Murphy, a Baltimore native. "It's a great line. I think I can be a great supporting help to them."
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