Cornerback Jimmy Smith is on the verge of breakout season

Ravens CB Jimmy Smith talked to the media on Wednesday about recovering from multiple injuries in his career, as well as his preparations for the 2014 season. (Kevin Richardson and Matt Bylis/Baltimore Sun Video)

Early in Wednesday's organized team activities, cornerback Jimmy Smith intercepted a pass near the 20-yard line and seconds later blew by quarterback Joe Flacco for a touchdown.

Shortly after he crossed the goal line, Smith rolled out the ball and gave one of those Mr. Olympic poses. Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been proud.

The Ravens and Smith would like to see more of those big plays in 2014. A year ago Smith turned the proverbial corner as he finished seventh on the team in tackles with 58, and had two interceptions and broke up 15 passes.

If Smith can force more turnovers, there is a Pro Bowl in his future. As he enters his fourth season, it could be his breakout year which is the main reason the Ravens exercised his option in April that will pay him $6.898 million in 2015.

"I think I started to come into my own as the season progressed," Smith said of last season. "Obviously, looking back, I'm probably the worst critic of myself, and I think I could have played a lot better and had a lot more turnovers. I think it was an OK year, and I think I should build off of it.

"I feel like in the league you get better as every year progresses. You get more comfortable, you learn concepts more and you understand the scheme of the defense. Right now, I'm very comfortable in the defense. I understand it with a year under my belt starting already, so right now I'm just trying to understand more offense than I am trying to understand my position."

Smith has all the physical talents. The football gods have blessed him with a sculpted 6-foot-2, 200-pound body. His bulging biceps could be classified as weapons. Smith is fast enough to run with almost any receiver in the league, but he has to improve on ball awareness.

That probably wouldn't have been a problem, but Smith suffered injuries that forced him to miss substantial playing time his first two seasons. But after getting in a full season last year, he will participate in offseason minicamps and could become one of the NFL's top cornerbacks.

"Jimmy's confidence — to me, confidence follows talent, it also follows understanding your position really well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He, more than ever since he's been here, understands how to play corner. He's playing the fundamentals really well. He's square, his eyes are in the right place, he's got the right leverage, he knows where his help is — it makes playing a lot easier."

It's easy to understand Harbaugh's excitement about Smith. The Ravens made him the 27th overall pick of the 2011 draft, but they've only gotten glimpses of his potential because of the injuries.

No one has been more frustrated than Smith. In 2011, he suffered a sprained ankle on the opening kickoff of the season opener, which forced him to miss four games. In 2012, Smith missed five games because of a sports hernia injury.

"You can't play with a high sprain," said Smith, "and I didn't get a chance to come in like all these rookies do now and have the full OTAs and be one-on-one with the coaches. I literally came in the day of training camp and was thrust into the fire. I'm not making any excuses, but that's just how it happened.

"I just happened to get hurt on the first play, so it definitely slowed down how my career started. And then in the second year another injury. That's the way God works. That's how it happens."

But early last season Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees kept challenging Smith. Because of his size they wanted him to be more physical and press receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Smith, who lost 10 pounds before the start of last season, played well in the second half of 2013. Opposing teams started throwing away from him and more at cornerbacks Corey Graham and Lardarius Webb.

Smith started to get name recognition.

If Smith develops as planned and Webb returns to his near-Pro Bowl form before he suffered a major knee injury in 2012, the Ravens would have one of the best tandems in the NFL. That would give Harbaugh and Pees a lot of options.

They can play big or small.

"Jimmy and Lardarius are probably two different kinds of body type, two different styles of players," Harbaugh said. "You might match Jimmy up with a bigger, physical guy; you might match Lardarius up with a quicker, change-of-direction guy, but it's not really been a big part of what we've done in the past.

"We've been more of a team that lines up and plays, usually, so it would be an exception to the rule for us to do that. But we could do that."

It's an option and possibly a dream. But it all depends on Smith. A breakout season is certainly possible.

"He is very determined," Ravens safety Matt Elam said. "He really wants to win. I see that he wants to improve. I see that he's focused on another level this year."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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