Za'Darius Smith Showing Strong Pass-Rush Potential


At the end of a practice last week in Philadelphia, Ravens rookie outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith walked up to Eagles quarterback Tim Tebow.

Smith wished him good luck in Saturday's game, but warned him, "Don't get hit."

On Saturday, Smith kept his word and did the hitting himself, bringing down Tebow for a sack in the fourth quarter. Smith let Tebow know about it, too.

"You see, I told you! I told you the truth that I was going to get you,'" Smith said.

Only problem was there was a yellow flag in the Ravens secondary. A defensive holding penalty negated the sack and delayed Smith's planned dance – "The Dougie."

Still, Smith has now dropped the opposing team's quarterback in each of his two preseason games. His sack against the Saints in the first preseason game stood in the box score.

It's a good sign for the pass-rush potential the fourth-round Kentucky product can bring as a rookie. Smith is looking like a strong bet to step into the snaps vacated by Pernell McPhee, who logged 7.5 sacks last year before signing with the Chicago Bears.

"Well, you see talent, first of all," Linebackers Coach Ted Monachino said Monday.

"You see a young guy that is growing. [He has] got a long ways to go – making steps every day. We're in that process of work, and we get to the point where a guy can take a quantum leap, we expect him to do that."

Smith has drawn comparisons to McPhee since he arrived in Baltimore, and the Ravens are hoping for similar rookie production. McPhee, a fifth-round pick, notched six sacks during his first season in 2011.

Smith was rated as the Ravens' top pass rusher against the Eagles, per Pro Football Focus (PFF), with a mark of plus-1.9. He had three quarterback hurries in 25 pass-rushing opportunities. Fellow outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw also received a positive rating (plus-1.6).

However, Smith has room to grow in the edge-setting department. He was given the team's lowest run defense grade (minus-2.4). Smith said coaches are harping on him to improve on setting the edge so containment isn't lost on outside runs.

"Some things were exposed on Saturday night in Philadelphia that we hope we can make a big jump with Za'Darius," Moncachino said. "He has played a lot of snaps of preseason football, so we hope he continues to ramp up and make a big jump here in the next couple days."

Smith admitted he's still getting used to being on his feet in a two-point stance. He did that during his two years at junior college, but played with his hand in the dirt during his time at Kentucky. Now switching back to standing up is taking some time to adjust.

But overall, Smith is making a positive first impression. It's clear he'll have a role on defense this season.

"Plans are going great," Smith said. "I can't look at it as if I'm going to make [the team]. I've got to try my best to make it. These next couple weeks, I'll work real hard to get better."

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