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Ravens rookie Jimmy Smith hits ground running in first practice

What stood out from Jimmy Smith's first NFL practice is that it didn't look like it was the cornerback's first NFL practice.

The Ravens' 2011 first-round pick jammed wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. He ripped a pass away over the middle. And he picked up the Ravens' defense in a few meetings.

Only hours after signing a four-year, $7.4 million contract (which includes a $3.9 million signing bonus), Smith showed no signs of being intimidated. In fact, he already seemed like he belonged.

That's why Smith can envision himself covering Hines Ward and Mike Wallace as the Week 1 starter against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He'll need to unseat either Domonique Foxworth or Lardarius Webb, both of whom are running with the first team, to do so.

"I've got a lot of work to do, but I definitely feel I can be a starter," Smith said. "I totally think so."

Making an immediate impact has become a tradition for the Ravens' top draft selections. Since 2002, seven of the eight first-round picks by the Ravens have started at least half the season as a rookie. The only exception was Terrell Suggs in 2003, and he won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award as a pass-rushing specialist.

Smith's challenge is greater than any other first-rounder in Ravens history. The NFL lockout eliminated weeks of offseason minicamps, which serve as an initiation to players, especially inexperienced ones.

The first time Smith stepped onto an NFL practice field comes 45 days before the regular season begins.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who started 16 games in 2006 as a rookie first-round pick, was asked if he could relate to what Smith is going through.

"I have no idea what his mind is like now," Ngata said. "I feel bad for these rookies."

Smith contends there's no confusion. He picked up the Ravens' playbook when he was drafted in April and flipped through it for three weeks. There was a comfort zone because the defense was similar to the one he played in at Colorado.

"The schemes, to me, are simple," Smith said. "In meeting rooms, we're going through the defense fairly rapid. I see it and I just get it."

Smith wasn't overwhelmed on the field, either. Many rookies are surprised by the increase speed of the game at the NFL level.

"I don't know if everybody was tired, but it was not fast for me," he said.

The biggest adjustment was the physical play. In college, receivers will try to juke defenders to get free off the line.

In his first NFL practice, he learned it was a much different game.

"These receivers run right into you and throw you off them," Smith said. For me, I like it. I like the physicality."

It shouldn't be a problem for the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Smith, who really stands a helmet taller than anyone else in the Ravens' secondary. He even went toe-to-toe with Anquan Boldin a few times.

The one complaint about Smith's practice debut was not at the start of plays but at the end of them. When a receiver would catch the ball against him, he would stop instead of chasing after them and going after the ball. New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano ripped into him for that.

"I think he's got a ways to go," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We have a lot of work in front of us with camp."

There really hasn't ever been a question about his talent. Rated among the top three cornerbacks in the draft, Smith fell to the Ravens at the 27th overall pick because of character issues.

Smith reportedly flunked three drug tests at Colorado, and he informed one team that one was for misusing codeine, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also told teams about two alcohol-related arrests and an arrest for third-degree assault in a restaurant.

The Ravens, though, will help Smith adjust to life in the NFL. Foxworth said one of his contributions to the team this year is to help Smith "mature as fast as possible intellectually on the field and socially off the field."

"He seems like a great young man, and I've heard that he's a great talent," Foxworth said. "So, it's really part of your responsibility, especially on a team like this, it's understood that you help out the young guys, and I felt like doing it with Webb before was great, and he's really come into his own. So, I look forward to working with Jimmy and teaching him everything I can and helping him mature."

If you glance at Smith on the field, he reminds you of the Ravens' last shutdown cornerback, Chris McAlister. He is big enough to match up against physical receivers. He has the speed to cover the fast ones.

"I hear a lot of comparisons but I haven't seen his game or how he plays," Smith said of McAlister. "But I also hear a lot of things that I don't want to fall into that he did."

During his 10 years with the Ravens, McAlister was arrested for driving under the influence and was suspended by the team for missing curfew in San Diego.

Smith intends on choosing a different path.

"Obviously, he's got all the tools and he's got a really good attitude," Harbaugh said. "He's a hard worker. I think he has to learn how to be a pro and I'm very certain he can do that."

Jamison.hensley@Baltsun.com

Twitter.com/jamisonhensley

Jimmy Smith will try to continue a tradition of first-round picks starting immediately for the Ravens:

A look at how many games recent Ravens first-round picks started as rookies:

2002 ; Ed Reed ; FS ; 16 games ;

2003 ; Terrell Suggs* ; LB ; 1 game ;

2003 ; Kyle Boller ; QB ; 9 games ;

2005 ; Mark Clayton WR ; 10 games ;

2006 ; Haloti Ngata; DT ; 16 games ;

2007 ; Ben Grubbs; G ; 12 games ;

2008 ; Joe Flacco ; QB ; 16 games ;

2009 ; Michael Oher; OT; 16 games ;

* NFL defensive rookie of the year

Note: Ravens didn't have a first-round pick in 2004 and 2010

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