With Lardarius Webb likely out for the year, the Ravens need fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a former first-round pick. With Terrell Suggs working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed showing their age, you could make a strong argument that cornerback Lardarius Webb was the best player on the Ravens defense. You could probably make a stronger argument for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but it would be a pretty good debate. That's how much Webb has grown since tearing his right ACL in his rookie season in 2009. He was hardened by the criticism he received after the playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, and he hasn't allowed a touchdown to be scored on him since Dec. 2010. Webb was on the verge of being recognized as a shutdown cornerback -- the Ravens had already done so, giving him a $50 million extension this spring -- when his left knee twisted awkwardly in the first quarter of Sunday's 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Now the cornerback is likely lost for the season. The proverbial next man up is Jimmy Smith, though it is fair to wonder why the 2011 first-round pick wasn't already up in the first place. Smith, a tall, rangy cornerback whose size and skill set is reminiscent of former Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister, fell to the Ravens during last year's draft due to failed drug tests and subsequent concerns about his character. Smith has been a good citizen in his year-and-a-half in Baltimore, and this summer, teammates raved about how much he had matured since his rookie year. But he couldn't play well enough and stay healthy enough to supplant Cary Williams as a starter during training camp, and he hadn't showed enough to convince the Ravens to start him over Williams when Williams was getting picked on by quarterbacks early in the season (mostly due to the presence of Webb). It's way too early to label Smith a disappointment, but he hasn't yet met the lofty expectations that came with his draft status. He will get his opportunity now -- and the Ravens need him to step up. "They're going to have to, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, referring to all his cornerbacks, including veteran Corey Graham and second-year cornerback Chykie Brown, and not singling out Smith. But let's be honest: most of the pressure to replace Webb will fall on the shoulders of Smith, and the spotlight will glare harshest into his facemask. Because of the prevalence of three-receiver sets, Smith has played more than 50 percent of the defensive snaps this season and technically, he started a few games last season as the third cornerback. But it's different when you play every snap, something Smith has been longing to do. "I think I'll be starting for a while. I feel bad for Webb, but I'm very excited. That's what I've been waiting for. It's my time to shine," he said. Asked if he was ready for the pressure, Smith didn't blink. "I'm ready." Whether he is ready for it or that was just his swagger talking, and regardless of whether it should have happened before it was necessitated an injury, the Jimmy Smith era is upon us. He doesn't have to be a shutdown cornerback right away, but that is the eventual expectation -- a lofty one set by Smith himself.
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