Jimmy Smith is in the midst of a competition for a starting job, but he spent more time watching from the sidelines last week than actually performing on the field.
The second-year cornerback suffered a back injury on Aug. 2, which held him out of practice for more than a week and forced him to miss the preseason opener in Atlanta. He returned to practice on Saturday, but just as a limited participant without doing the full speed 11-on-11 drills.
The injury comes as an inopportune time for Smith, who is trying to unseat last year's starter Cary Williams.
"It's a bummer that I can't go out there and compete every day, but at the same time my body is what's really important," Smith said after Sunday's practice. "They need me for September, not the preseason."
He hopes to play in Friday's preseason game against Detroit, but said he has to see how the back feels later in the week.
Last year's first-round pick said that he isn't worried about the injury keeping him out for an extended period of time. He battled a similar injury during his college career at Colorado and is already feeling better after taking the time off to recover.
"It's something that's happened to me before, so I wasn't surprised or anything," Smith said. "It just takes some time to die down."
Injuries limited Smith's production last year, as he suffered an ankle injury on the opening kickoff of the regular season. He was then inactive for the next four games before making his first start in Week 13.
Now that he's working through another injury, Smith is taking an upbeat approach.
"Honestly I just try to not even focus on that because I know I get to go out and play," he said. "It's just part of the game. Sometimes you get little nicks and bruises, and sometimes you're down for a week, sometimes you're down for five days, but you just have to keep your head up really. You can't be depressed."
In terms of the competition with Williams, neither player has really been able to gain any separation in the race. Williams missed practices during minicamp and Organized Team Activities recovering from hip surgery earlier this offseason, and now Smith has to deal with an injury.
The two players have only been on the field at the same time for the first week of training camp, making it tough for the coaches to judge where they both stand in the competition. Williams is still listed as the starter on the team's official depth chart.
In order to win a starting job, Smith has focused his efforts on adjusting to the faster speed of the NFL game. He struggled to adjust at times last season, and he shed about 15 pounds this offseason to allow him to play faster.
"That's what I'm working on: playing faster," Smith said. "It's not straight-line speed. I'm fast and quick enough, but improving game speed is what I worked on, and dropping weight was just part of it."
Smith, like Williams, is a big-bodied cornerback who the Ravens can use to defend taller wide receivers. Having those two in the secondary to complement top cornerback Lardarius Webb and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, Smith likes what the group has in store for this season.
"We're just so dynamic. I think we can cover any receiver set. We have the small, the quicks, and we have the big and strong," Smith said. "You got every element I think that a secondary needs."