Ravens veteran DB Jimmy Smith possess the versatility to flourish in a hybrid role
The Baltimore Ravens value versatility among all their players on both sides of the ball but especially on defense. Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale likes to be aggressively creative and clever with players that possess diverse skill sets that can line all over the formation and be utilized in a myriad of different ways that can allow him to disguise coverages and generate pressure.
On such player is veteran defensive back Jimmy Smith who spent the first nine years of his career at cornerback but will be used more in a hybrid safety role in his 10th season. Ever since he resigned with the team back in March, there’s been constant speculation about what part he will play in Baltimore’s scheme since they have a pair of First-Team All-Pro selections occupying the outside corner starting spots in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters and have stud nickelback Tavon Young returning from injury.
As the offseason went on and since training camp has gotten underway, it has become clear that Smith’s role in this defense is to not only provide great depth to the deepest and strongest secondary in the league but to be a versatile chess piece that can be used in a multitude of different facets and fashions including at safety.
“He’s already practicing there,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been back there in certain packages, in certain coverages, playing safety. But we have good safeties. I like the guys we have. The young guys are practicing. We’ll see how they do. We’ll just do what we always do; we’ll put the best players we have out there.”
While the release of Earl Thomas pushed third-year safety DeShon Elliott into the starting spot alongside Chuck Clark in the backend, it could also result in more reps in both practices and ultimately in games for Smith.
Martindale deploys several defensive packages and sub-packages in order to create and exploit favorable matchups. Some of those heavily feature more defensive backs to combat the proliferation of prolific passing attacks that have become commonplace in today’s game at every level of competition.
“The way that we play in our secondary, we have a lot of guys who do a lot of interchangeable things,” Hewitt said. “We move guys around, whether it’s a guy playing corner, a guy playing nickel, or a guy playing safety. We’re going to optimize our looks as far as matchups are concerned.”
“So, if there’s a reason for using Jimmy at safety, we’ll do that. Whether its versus a tight end or a bigger wide receiver, whatever it is, we’ll use him in that fashion. We’ll continue to keep on moving him around, and he’s embraced that role. I’m proud of what he’s done so far.”
Smith has been impressing coaches and teammates alike in training camp with some of the plays he’s made, the shape he’s in, and with the way he has embraced a reduced but still vital role on defense. He and third-year tight end Mark Andrews have had some great battles in camp thus far and the 2019 first time Pro Bowler believes he’s a natural fit at safety and is helping him get better as he looks to build off his breakout season.
“Jimmy and I have had a really fun camp so far,” Andrews said. “He’s honestly a natural. He’s going to flourish at the position. I’ve been against a lot of great players, and he’s definitely very good at what he does. So, we’ve been battling it out, and it’s been fun to be able to go against him. We’re making each other better.”
Smith has the speed and change of direction to keep up with running backs coming out of the backfield and the size, strength, and length to cloak tight ends working the middle of the field and down the seam, and he’s still a starting-caliber corner that can still dominate on the outside against wide receivers.
His checkered injury history might make some weary of the team using him at safety instead of stashing him on the bench to back Peters and Humphrey exclusively or start in their stead in the case of an injury but he’s entirely too talented and versatile of a defender not to utilize if he’s healthy and available.
Other players in recent memory have been able to carve out pivotal roles on defense despite not being full-time starters and Smith could be the next in line. In addition to being captain of the special teams protection and coverage units Anthony Levine Sr can play both safety and linebacker in sub-packages.
Before his accession into the starting lineup last season, Chuck Clark would often come on the field in obvious passing situations as a third safety to help cover the deep middle when one of the starters went down near the line of scrimmage to support the run in the case of a draw or guard a tight end or running back in man coverage.
The most relatable to Smith would be the role Brandon Carr played for the Ravens last season once Humphrey became a full-time starter and Peters was acquired midseason. He played what many believe will be the exact role that Smith is destined for in 2020 but Smith seems even more equipped athletically and from a physicality standpoint to flourish in that role.