Back From Achilles Tear, Jimmy Smith Is Confident He Can Return to a Pro-Bowl Level

Jimmy Smith knows exactly how many steps he has in his house – 56.

The Ravens veteran has a winding spiral staircase that goes from the main level to his "man cave" on the top floor. His guests hate it. Now he hates it even more.

"With one foot and your Achilles and crutches, you tend to figure out how many [steps there are]," Smith said. "It was torture getting up and down those steps."

It was yet another physically and mentally challenging offseason for Smith. The Ravens' top cornerback was having a Pro-Bowl worthy 2017 campaign before he tore his Achilles on Dec. 3, just as Baltimore was making a playoff push.

The Ravens' first-round pick in 2011, Smith has played in 16 games just twice (2013 and 2015) in his seven seasons. He's missed 26 regular-season games over that span.

In 2011, Smith sprained his ankle on the very first play of his NFL career as he ran down the field on the opening kickoff. That cost him four games.

In 2012, Smith underwent sports hernia surgery that knocked him out for five games. He returned to lock up now teammate Michael Crabtree in Super Bowl XLVII's epic goal-line stand.

In 2014, Smith suffered a Lisfranc foot injury that ended his season at the midway point. He still says that was the hardest to come back from.

In 2016, Smith sat out five games because of a back injury and high ankle sprain, which ended his season in Week 14.

Last year came the Achilles, which was perhaps the least surprising of all, at least to Smith.

Smith played through Achilles soreness for 12 games and was still graded as the NFL's fourth-best cornerback in coverage, per Pro Football Focus. He didn't give up a single touchdown and had tied his career-high mark with three interceptions.

Smith tried to rest his Achilles whenever possible and took pain-relief shots, but the pressure was intense and he like it was going to pop any day. As strange as it sounds, it was almost a relief to him when it went.

"When it finally popped, I was like, 'Ah, finally that's over now,'" Smith said.

The recovery from a torn Achilles is long and intense, but rehab is nothing new to Smith and, as teammate Eric Weddle said, Smith seems to heal like Marvel superhero Wolverine.

Smith talked to current and former teammates who had also torn their Achilles, including Steve Smith Sr., Terrell Suggs (twice), Benjamin Watson and Michael Crabtree. They all returned to still be highly-productive players in the NFL. Now the question is how fast Smith can do the same.

Suggs was back in game action five months after tearing his Achilles in 2012. Smith was back on the practice field in that same span. Now nearly eight months since suffering the injury, Smith doesn't have restrictions in practice; he's taking part in 11-on-11 drills.

The Ravens are still giving Smith some days off to recover (he didn't participate in practice the past two days), but all indications are that he should be full-go by the time the regular-season begins.

Smith says he feels fine. He's just getting back into the football movements that can't be simulated in training and rehab, but he shows no signs of obvious rust. Even he was a little surprised at how quickly he recovered, but now he acts as if it's no big deal.

Asked how quickly he can return to last year's high level of play, Smith said, "I think I can get there as soon as possible."

"I don't really feel any setback or anything that's holding me back from doing that," Smith said. "It's kind of a trust thing, but once you get it back you feel comfortable."

What's still holding him back is the same thing that's held him back for the past seven years. There's no telling how long Smith will be able to stay on the field.

Numerous times over his career, the freakishly athletic Smith has been on the cusp of emerging as the premier, Pro Bowl, lockdown cornerback that the Ravens envisioned when they drafted him in the first round in 2011. But every time, an injury has set him back.

"Really, you kind of hurt for him, because he's played himself into that position really year after year, and the injuries have taken their toll, and then he kills himself to get back," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday.

"Hopefully this will be the year where he can stay injury-free the whole time. He's worked really hard and he's really talented, and he really is conscientious. I'm really in his corner. I want to see him do well."

Smith doesn't sugarcoat the toll the ups-and-downs have taken on him personally. He knows he carries the "injury-prone" label, and there's no going back in time to fix it. All he can do is work to try to break the cycle moving forward.

"It sucks. I'm not going to act like it doesn't," Smith said. "It just seems like I'm constantly trying to fight just to get back to even instead of training and excelling better and progressing even more.

"I obviously read things about me, I can hear it and I feel it. Obviously, I want to be on the field, and to be hurt – it hurts, it sucks to sit in there. But just having a strong mental [approach] and my teammates supporting me, obviously the Ravens supporting me, all that stuff matters in the long run."

The Ravens are in the thick of training camp already. Check out the best images from Friday's practice at the Under Armour Performance Center.

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