Confidence has never been a problem for Jimmy Smith.
It's comfort that the third-year cornerback hasn't had, but is now gaining. And it's what could lead to a breakout 2013 campaign for the Ravens' 2011 first-round pick.
After two disappointing seasons in which Smith lost training camp battles, then battled injuries, he is again competing for a starting spot in the Ravens defense, this year with veteran Corey Graham.
Smith got off to good start, as he ran opposite Graham with the first-team defense with Lardarius Webb still rehabbing. Pundits took notice, placing Smith at the top of the list in terms of positive minicamp impressions.
"I've seen a lot of growth from Jimmy," Secondary Coach Teryl Austin said. "He seems like a different guy right now."
Smith has changed his ways dramatically since college, particularly in the classroom.
At Colorado, the 6-foot-2, fleet-footed cornerback could overwhelm opponents with his athleticism. Opposing quarterbacks hardly even threw his way. So when Smith was studying for an opponent, he said he was really only watching the action as if he were a fan instead of a defender.
"I didn't really learn in college how to watch film," Smith said. "I was watching to see who's good, who's fast, who's strong."
Smith was among those good, fast, strong athletes. He was talented enough to be drafted 27th-overall. But when Smith arrived in the NFL, he found out a high draft status didn't equal success.
"When you get drafted high, you're thinking, 'I got drafted in the first round because I'm capable,' not thinking of the extras you have to do," Smith said. "Sometimes you get drafted just off physical skills. You don't factor in that this is a veteran league and you've got to learn how to play in this league."
Last year, Smith talked to linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed about what they did to become great. Both film junkies, they pointed to dedication in the classroom. Smith started to develop better habits, but once again fell to the injury bug.
On the very first play of his NFL career, Smith suffered a high ankle sprain that knocked him out of that game and four more. Last year, a sports hernia sidelined him for five games, and by the time he returned in Week 15, Graham had seized the starting job.
But Smith's altered habits paid off in the playoffs, and particularly in Super Bowl XLVII.
In the Ravens' final goal-line stand in the Super Bowl, Smith diagnosed the final two plays. He left his wide receiver early to break into the flank and clobber 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, knocking the ball loose on third down and even temporarily blinding the wideout.
Then on fourth down, Smith noticed San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick tap the back of his head before the snap. Smith anticipated a fade to Crabtree, and that's just what he got. Smith stood up to initial contact and the pass sailed out of bounds.
The study habits that led to that string of plays – among the Ravens' biggest in Super Bowl XLVII – carried into the offseason.
"I think playing as well as he did the last two playoff games coming off the injury and coming into the offseason knowing that this is a big year for him [was beneficial]," Austin said.
Smith now asks a lot of questions in the classroom. He does his homework too, studying the Ravens' plays and his practice tape on his iPad. He said he texts Austin nearly every night as he watches film.
"I want to do exactly what they know I can do here," Smith said.
Smith also took up boxing in the offseason, strengthening his core and shedding 10 pounds. He said he feels like he did in college, and is hoping that the increased strength will keep the injury bug away.
"I guess I'm taking that step to become great," he said. "I wasn't doing that to my fullest capability the first couple years."
Smith still has a tough battle on his hands if he's going to win a starting job. Graham also looked good throughout minicamp, and also played big in the playoffs. Graham's two interceptions of Peyton Manning in the divisional playoffs, including one returned for a touchdown and another in overtime, were two of the game's key plays.
Graham, a former special teams standout, has noticed Smith nipping at his heels in practice.
"He's doing well too. He's in good position," Graham said of Smith. "He's getting his hands on a few balls. … I'm going to go out there and do my best, and I'm pretty sure he's going to do the same. Whatever happens is what happens."
Never lacking in confidence, Smith said he can "taste" the starting job. He said he felt that way every year, but this time he's in position to actually seize it.
"My rookie season I truly believed I was good enough to go out there and play every single snap," Smith said with a laugh. "My confidence has never changed, but my preparation has. It makes me a lot more comfortable. I know what I'm doing."