Part of what made Jimmy Smith such a great cornerback, besides his natural physical tools, is his confidence.
A four-year contract extension this offseason likely didn't hurt that swagger, but last season's foot surgery may have. And while Smith doesn't take his contract onto the field with him, his foot is part of the gameday package.
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees was blunt when asked what he's seen from Smith this season.
"Tentative. I think he has been tentative and not really letting it go," Pees said.
"Whether that's the injury, whether it's not, I don't … Only he can tell you that. But I haven't seen him quite be the ... what do I want to say? Productive player. It's more a lot of confidence in going up there and really being aggressive."
It seems opponents have also picked up on Smith's apprehension.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he's been targeted 52 times through seven weeks. He was thrown at just 39 times through seven games last season.
Fellow starting cornerback Lardarius Webb has been targeted 37 times this season. It was Webb who said during training camp that he expected to be thrown to every time until he showed quarterbacks that wasn't a good idea. Webb didn't expect opponents to test Smith.
On Wednesday, Smith was asked whether he's surprised he's been targeted so much.
"Not at all," he said. "I'm coming off an injury so that's expected."
Opponents will keep coming at Smith until he stops them.
So far, quarterbacks have completed 63.5 percent of passes in Smith's direction. Per PFF, he's given up 33 catches for 446 yards and four touchdowns. At this point last year, before the foot injury, Smith had allowed 20 catches for 163 yards and zero touchdowns.
Smith has had a brutal run of wide receivers to cover, starting with Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, then Oakland's top rookie Amari Cooper, Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, San Francisco's Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown.
But that's the expectation for a top NFL cornerback, and it won't get easier this Sunday with San Diego's Keenan Allen, who is third in the league in receiving yards (690) and first in catches (62).
"Just like anybody else coming off injury, some things are going to happen that may not go your way," Smith said. "You just keep fighting. It's not like I'm out there getting killed. I'm not depressed or anything like that. The balls are going to come, I expect them to come, and I've got to make plays."
Pees indicated that Smith could press more at the line of scrimmage. At 6-foot-2, 206 pounds, that's always been Smith's strength, but he could be backing off more if he's even subconsciously thinking he's going to get beat or can't stay in a receiver's pocket.
"It's basically at the line of scrimmage, because he's a big guy, and when he gets his hands on you, he does a great job," Pees said. "I think sometimes he has been a little tentative, and I think he'll say that, too."
Pees shared Smith's outlook on how to turn things around. Eventually, Smith's foot should fully recover and he'll be back to his dominant self. For now, he's got to work through it in practice and games.
"The only way you build confidence is you have good things happen to you in a football game," Pees said. "Once that happens, it's a lot easier."