Serving a four-game suspension gave Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith time to think about his life, how much he missed football, and how fortunate he felt to return to the practice field Wednesday.
Smith has missed time before due to injury, but this most recent hiatus gave him a different perspective.
"It gave me an opportunity to really sit down and get that love back, get my body back, get my mind right, my personal life in order," Smith said Thursday before practice. "It was a great time for that purpose."
The NFL suspended Smith prior to the season for violating the league's conduct policy. Smith said legal reasons prevented him from talking about what led to his suspension. However, Smith described his distress when learning that he would be punished.
"I was devastated for the simple fact that I'd be missing games," Smith said. "It sucks to miss games. I feel like I let my team down. That part, it hurts – really hurts."
Smith had a totally different feeling Monday when he returned to the team's facility around 8 a.m. after his suspension was lifted.
"Amazing, simply amazing," Smith said. "I missed it, I missed be around the guys, talking, being around football. It's my life.
"This is my family. It's really my only family on the East coast. When you come here and people welcome you back, hugs and, 'How you've been?' it does a lot."
Smith learned that he and his fiancée were expecting their second child last month during his suspension. He also took a new approach to conditioning, hiring a nutritionist that he trained with in Dallas.
Smith has only played 16 games twice in his first seven NFL seasons, and he turned 30 years old in July. When healthy, Smith has played quality football, but staying on the field has been an ongoing challenge. He is coming off a Dec. 3 Achilles injury that required surgery and ended his 2017 season, though it didn't seem to limit him at all in training camp or the preseason.
While eager to return, Smith did not sound like he expected to play his normal number of snaps Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
"There's only one way to get in football shape, and that's play football," Smith said. "Until I get out there and cover somebody, that's when you really get back into the groove of things."
There is no urgency to rush Smith back into a starting role with Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and slot corner Tavon Young all playing solid football.
"It's a great situation for us, and for him, to ease him (Smith) back into this, and let him get his mojo back," safety Eric Weddle said. "It's not like you have two or three preseason games, 40 snaps, to get your bearings right. You're jumping right in there."
Carr has started 164 consecutive games, the longest streak for a defensive player in the NFL. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said Thursday he did not want to be the coach who ended Carr's streak. However, Martindale said he liked what he saw from Smith during his return to practice.
"I thought he looked fine," Martindale said."He's real excited. I was happy he wasn't really sore after practice. He's been working out, obviously. But it's different than working out."
Weddle texted Smith often during his suspension, encouraging him to stay positive. The two had a countdown to when Smith would be back, and the veteran safety believes Smith will have a greater appreciation for his career.
"Obviously as you get older, you appreciate certain things," Weddle said. "He had a great practice yesterday. Just having him back, his smile his energy, is a great thing."