The coaches see it. His teammates see it. Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is finding his comfort zone after being suspended the first four weeks of the season for violating the NFL's conduct code.
Smith played 27 snaps in Sunday's 21-0 shutout over the Tennessee Titans, just one fewer than Tavon Young, two fewer than Marlon Humphrey and five fewer than Brandon Carr. With those other three corners playing well, the Ravens can allow Smith to work his way back into top form without compromising their defense.
However, Smith's presence could become more important Sunday when the Ravens host the New Orleans Saints, whose leading receiver is Michael Thomas with 46 catches, 519 yards and three touchdowns in five games. Only Adam Thielen of Minnesota (58 catches), Zach Ertz of Philadelphia (48), and Davante Adams of Green Bay (47) have more receptions than Thomas.
Thomas is listed at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, a physical receiver who often has a size and strength advantage over cornerbacks. But Smith (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) is the Ravens' most physical corner, and after just two games back, Smith looks ready to handle a heavy workload against top receivers.
"He's Jimmy," Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. "He's getting used to playing again. You can see it. Receivers had a hard time getting off the line of scrimmage. It was fun to see."
Cornerback depth was once a weakness for the Ravens, but it has become a strength, especially with Smith back in the lineup.
"He did a great job coming back from suspension," Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "More credit to him, coming back in shape being ready to go. If you can have a 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 corner out there, it definitely helps."
Ravens Won't Take it Easy on Former Teammate Benjamin Watson
Saints tight end Benjamin Watson was popular with teammates and the community during his two seasons with the Ravens (2016-17), and he left Baltimore on a high note with 61 catches for 522 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Watson signed back with the Saints, where he played from 2013-2015, this offseason. And at age 37, he has remained an effective possession receiver (17 catches, 187 yards) this season, both ranking third on the Saints offense.
While plenty of Ravens players will be glad to see Watson, they hope to spoil his return to Baltimore. Mosley was asked if he would let up on Watson if given a chance to make a hard tackle.
"Nah, he's out there making diving catches, making great plays," Mosley said. "The same thing he was doing for us. When we get inside the field, you got to lay it on whoever it is."
Containing Alvin Kamara One of Ravens' Top Priorities
Saints running back Alvin Kamara is one of the league's best multi-purpose players with 299 yards rushing and 351 yards receiving. He's also occasionally used as a punt returner. The Ravens have not surrendered many big plays this season, but Kamara's speed and elusiveness makes him dangerous against any opponent.
"He's a problem," Martindale said. "He's one of those major league pitchers that has about four different really good pitches. He's good on the outside, he's good on the inside, and he can run the ball, too. He's an all-around threat. Sean and Drew do a nice job of getting him places."
On a conference call this week, Payton said using Kamara as a returner was worth the risk of injury.
"Every time a player goes on the field there's a fear of injury, but you're trying to get your best players out there that give you a chance to win games," Payton said. "I think it's something he does well. I think he's got real good vision. That change of direction and speed, along with the vision, lends itself to returning punts."
Mosley says keeping Kamara in check is a key to Sunday's game for the Ravens.
"Just a dynamic player," Mosley said. "I wouldn't say new breed. You think of Tyreek Hill, guys like that. They kind of have that style, you can line them up at wide receiver, put them in the backfield, special teams.
"He can make people miss in the open field. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. We just have to make sure we tackle him. They may try to get him going early, get the ball to him quick. We all have to run to the ball and make open-field tackles."
Baltimore Native Cyrus Jones Is About to Live His Dream
Jones had solid debut as the Ravens' punt returner in Tennessee, handling every opportunity cleanly, and making several tacklers miss on a 26-yard punt return that he almost broke. It was the kind of performance the Ravens hoped for after signing him to the 53-man roster from the New England Patriots.
After Janarion Grant and Tim White failed to keep the punt return job, Jones has been brought in to solidify it.
"I was just trying to make a move, get the space," Jones said. "That's how those plays go. You never really know what's going to happen. You just use your instincts to make a play."
Special Teams Coordinator/Associate Head Coach Jerry Rosburg liked what he saw from Jones in his debut.
"It looked like he was poised, he was under control, under the ball, handled the ball well, made a couple guys miss, got a few extra yards," Rosburg said. "There's room for growth, but it got off to a good start. I particularly like the fact that he made a tackle in kickoff coverage and he played gunner for us."
Jones is a Baltimore native and will realize a dream Sunday playing at M&T Bank Stadium for the Ravens. He is living at home with his parents and younger brother, and he will have a host of friends and relatives at the game.
"Feeling that hometown love," Jones said. "It's definitely a unique situation I'm in. I'm just embracing it, trying to remind myself that this is my job; I've got to put that first, even though it's great being home with the family.
"I know that I'm going to be hyped up as it gets closer to the game. That will be a good feeling just to get out there … my first time playing in M&T as a Raven? It's going to be a surreal feeling. Growing up here, watching this team, it's something I've dreamed about for a long time."