The former first-round pick has earned a starting job and is making steady progress in his third NFL season, but he insists he still has plenty of room to grow.
“I’m playing OK,” Smith said. “I’m just playing my game. Each week I’m still trying to get better. That never stops.”
A big part of Smith’s development is his ability to play physical against wide receivers. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound defender is the biggest cornerback on the team, and the coaches have worked with him on using that size to his advantage.
“When you’re a big corner, that’s quite a tool you have when you can play physical and get your hands on guys,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. “That’s one of his physical talents is being physical because he is big, he’s got long arms, and you’ve just got to keep working on that.”
Smith has shown that physical play in each of the last two weeks.
He has matched up against big wide receivers and played tight coverage in games against the Browns and Texans. Smith has four passes defensed in those games and is a big part of the reason the Ravens have not allowed a touchdown in the last eight quarters.
Last week against the Texans, Smith spent much of the day matched up against All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson finished the day with five catches for 36 yards, and just three of those catches came when Johnson lined up against Smith.
One of the noticeable improvements Smith has displayed early this season is that he’s avoided getting burned deep. Earlier in Smith’s career he struggled with getting beat over the top, especially on double moves. But against the Texans he did a good job of keeping everything in front of him.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub completed seven passes in Smith’s direction, and none of those passes went for big gains, as the longest pass Smith allowed on the day was a 17-yard completion.
“I’m just getting comfortable in the scheme and doing what I like to do, playing physical, trying to be consistent out there,” Smith said.
Smith has also shown a better awareness for the football. He is playing the ball better, and turning his head to bat down balls in coverage.
“That’s just natural instincts.” Smith said. “You can be taught to do it. It’s kind of a natural instinct, when you’re in good position to turn around, find, lean and locate. Then you make a play on the ball. It’s not an easy job to do, especially when quarterbacks are really good at putting it outside. You just try to focus with your technique and stay in good position.”
Throughout his young career, Smith has shown flashes of developing into a lockdown cornerback. His play on the final defensive stand of the Super Bowl was critical in the Ravens hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, and the coaches have emphasized their confidence in him.
The key now, which Smith and Pees both stressed, is consistency.
“Each week I get more and more comfortable doing what the defense wants me to do and allows me to do,” Smith said.