Ravens Notebook

Like that old rap song, Jimmy Smith is going back to Cali.

And it's an important journey for the Baltimore Ravens' imposing rookie cornerback beyond his personal story of returning to Southern California, roughly an hour drive from his hometown of Colton.

Although 40 to 50 friends and family are traveling to watch Smith square off with the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night, thoughts of guarding a dangerous receiving corps are what's consuming the first-round draft pick. With Lardarius Webb expected to miss this game with a left turf toe injury, Smith is slated to replace him in the starting lineup. "I'm thinking more about the game than being at home," Smith said. "My focus is on doing good against Vincent Jackson and those guys." This is the kind of game the Ravens envisioned utilizing Smith in when they drafted him in the first round last April out of Colorado. The former All-American selection has the size, speed and physical nature to be paired opposite elite wide receivers.

What he lacks is experience as this would be his most extended playing time yet after starting the past two games in the nickel package when offenses opened up in three wide receiver packages.

"I feel confident, I always feel confident," Smith said. "A corner with no confidence is a corner who's getting beat. I feel very confident that I can step in and do a good job." It's unlikely that the Ravens will assign Smith the sole responsibility of checking Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pounder who leads the Chargers with 53 receptions for 952 yards and eight touchdowns.

However, the Chargers have so many weapons. That includes star tight end Antonio Gates and another large, fast receiver in Malcom Floyd, all 6-5, 225 pounds of him.

"They're a great passing team," Smith said. "I'm a corner in the NFL. I want them to pass the ball. This is one of those games. It's a game you would circle. A cornerback like this and receivers like that, it's a challenge. It's me against them.

"These are really big dudes. I'm considered a big corner, so these dudes have to be considered huge as far as receivers. They can run as well. When you watch them on film, they're big and they can move pretty well."

Smith has intercepted two passes and deflected six passes in nine games after missing four games with a high ankle sprain suffered in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. During his convalescence, the Ravens made sure that they kept Smith involved mentally so he didn't fall behind in his knowledge of the defense. Secondary coach Teryl Austin paid special attention to the rookie cornerback. "The first thing that they want to do is isolate themselves, because they don't feel like they're a part of it anymore," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "What you've got to do is you've got to keep them engaged. That's what we do with all the guys. Teryl did a great job with Jimmy.

"We said, ‘The only thing that's different is you're not going out there and playing on Sunday, but you have to take the approach and prepare as if you're going to play on Sunday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, that's got to be the exact same as if you were playing.' So, he did that. He was diligent about that."

Smith allowed a touchdown pass against the Cincinnati Bengals when he got caught flat-footed on an Andy Dalton fade pass to Andre Caldwell. Against the Cleveland Browns, Smith acknowledged that he didn't communicate properly on a touchdown pass behind him to tight end Evan Moore. Through his mistakes, he's learning more about the subtleties of playing cornerback in the NFL. "You can see how fast he's coming back, and the plays that he's starting to make," Pagano said. "That's only going to continue to go up. From a schematic standpoint, he's not out there thinking about what his job is anymore.

"He understands, he knows what to do, and now he's able to diagnose and recognize formations and down and distance and things like that and just being able to play and make plays." Over the past few games, Smith has increased his knowledge of the defense and looks more natural lining up against receivers.

He's typically positioned close to the line of scrimmage with his facemask close to receivers' chests, delivering a powerful jam before and turning and running with them step for step. "I feel like I'm getting a way better grasp of the defense," Smith said. "That's what you really need as a rookie. Once you feel comfortable, that's when you start making the plays that you want to make. That's where I'm at right now, I'm getting really comfortable." Where Smith can make a difference is through his sheer size.

He's the biggest cornerback on the Ravens' roster and represents the physical prototype for the position. The Ravens haven't had a potential shutdown cornerback with his dimensions since former Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister was on the roster.

"We're kind of excited about the fact that we've got some bigger corners who are playing really well to take out there," coach John Harbaugh said. "We didn't have that as much a couple years ago when we were out there, so we'll be looking forward to seeing how those guys match up against their great receivers."

And Webb is anticipating that Smith will harness his talent and excel against the Chargers. "I know Jimmy is going to do great," Webb said. "We've done a great job of preparing him up to now. He's an NFL cornerback. He knows what he has to do. He'll have to do the preparation. So far, he's doing well."

Besides the increased responsibility for Smith, this game does represent an opportunity for bragging rights. Smith played high school football with Chargers rookie cornerback Shareece Wright, a former USC standout.

They never played against each other in college and remain close friends. "That's my buddy, inseparable," Smith said. "It's going to be fun, but I'm not going to be playing gunner this game. So, I don't really get to match up with him. But it's going to be fun. We had this circled when we knew who we were playing. So, it's going to be exciting."

Notebook: Ravens wary of Weddle

OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be appropriately cognizant of San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle's ball-hawking presence whenever he looks to throw Sunday night. That's a smart idea.

Weddle is tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions and is regarded as a natural center fielder with excellent instincts and range. "He's just got good ball skills," Flacco said. "He's back there at safety, and he's got the skills. When the ball goes in the air, he does a good job of being a guy that can go get it and judge the ball and catch it and do all those things."

The Chargers signed Weddle to a five-year, $40 million deal that includes $19 million in guaranteed money. And he has justified their investment with the fourth-most interceptions in franchise history in a single season. "He's smart, he's tough," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Everybody that watched him coming out of college, you can see why they traded up to get him. He kind of quarterbacks the defense and is having a solid year."

NGATA, GRUBBS BACK: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday after missing the previous practice with a back injury.

Offensive guard Ben Grubbs also returned to practice and was limited after being rested Wednesday with a right turf toe injury. For the second consecutive day, middle linebacker Ray Lewis (right turf toe) practiced on a limited basis.

He declined an interview request after practice due to a meeting, only saying: "I'm good." Not practicing for the second day in a row: kicker Billy Cundiff (left calf), cornerback Lardarius Webb (left turf toe) and defensive end Cory Redding (ankle). Cornerback Chris Carr (back) was limited again. Rookie running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) participated fully.

For the San Diego Chargers, linebacker Takeo Spikes (back), defensive end Jacques Cesaire (ankle), linebacker Donald Butler (foot) and center Colin Baxter (ankle) didn't practice again. Safety Darrell Stuckey (groin) was upgraded to limited participation.

RETURN GAME: Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg isn't ruling out Webb just yet even though the cornerback and punt returner is expected to be sidelined Sunday. Webb is averaging 10.7 yards per punt return and ran one back for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns. "Well, we really don't know yet," Rosburg said. "Honestly, we have to wait and see how he's going to be on Sunday, and we'll make a decision on Sunday."

The top candidates to step in for Webb are Carr, Tom Zbikowski and LaQuan Williams. Carr is regarded as the most likely choice.

"The same guys that we have been all year long have been taking the practice reps," Rosburg said. Meanwhile, Rosburg indicated that kick returner David Reed has improved his ball security through practice drills with running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery. Reed fumbled twice in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

"So, we do kick the ball to him and we have kickoff return drills. I see him paying attention to the detail that we need to. So, yeah, progress is being made."

Will Reed regain his old duties that have been handled capable, albeit without any long returns, by Zbikowski?

"From the very start, we said as soon as we're ready to use him, we'll be using him," Rosburg said. "So yes, I do see us using him again." NGATA HONORED: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was named to the USA Football All-Fundamentals team for the third consecutive year, the only NFL player to be named to the list every year.

"Ngata's ability to get into an opponent's backfield and disrupt an offense is based on his sound fundamentals," USA Football stated. "Even when executing complex moves, he is quick and precise."

"This is awesome, definitely an honor," Ngata said. "Coaches are a big part of it, helping you find things you can study up on and helping you with techniques."

Ngata has 49 tackles, five sacks, four pass deflections, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

"It's a great honor, and it's a testament to what we feel is the best defensive tackle in all of football," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "He's a great player, but he's a great person. You are not going to find a better person. He cares about his teammates. We're very fortunate to have him on the Ravens." For the award, Ngata received a silver helmet trophy and a $1,500 equipment grant to donate to a youth or high school football program.

"He goes out every day and works on something to make himself better," defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. "It's not easy. He is blessed with an awful lot of talent, but he's also blessed with a great work ethic."

RADIO SILENCE: Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano won't be holding conversations this week with his brother, Chargers linebackers coach John Pagano.

"We don't talk this week," Chuck Pagano said. "One text after Sunday's game, ‘Good job,' and then we kind of shut it down and wait until the game is over, and then we'll visit." Chuck Pagano said he's 1-6 against his brother previously having matched up with him when he was the Oakland Raiders secondary coach in the past. "The first six were JV teams that we took in there," Pagano said. "Took varsity team there in 2009 and won. We're taking a varsity team out there again. Anyway, it's always fun to do it. When that ball is kicked off, it's football, you know? You forget about all that stuff."

QUICK HITS: Deactivated for the past few games with the Ravens having up extra linebackers, the Ravens have seen positive changes from Williams in practice.

"He's really making a lot of progress," Rosburg said. "He's one of those guys that can do a lot of things, because he's big enough and strong enough and fast enough, and he has ball skills enough to do a variety of things. And we have high hopes for LaQuan. I think he's got a very bright future here. I think that as we go forward the rest of the season, his practice reps have been good, and he's going to be a very good special-teams player. And the Ravens have a lot of plans for LaQuan."

Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy visited the Ravens' training complex Thursday and attended practice.

Ravens Insider Top Stories