Bryant did most of his damage against Cary Williams, catching 13 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

And Smith anticipates the Texans, whose top wide receivers are Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, targeting him early and often to test his mettle.

"Absolutely, I'm a second-year corner," Smith said. "They're definitely going to attack me, but I've got to strap it on and be ready. We definitely have our hands full with these receivers."

As a rookie, Smith had 18 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass deflections. And he had an acrobatic interception of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC championship game.

Now, the Ravens need Smith to play at an even higher level.

"I expect him to play really well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I have tremendous confidence in Jimmy Smith, we all do. Jimmy's got tremendous confidence. He's here for a reason. He's talented, he works hard. He'll play well."

Smith spent this offseason dropping weight, getting noticeably leaner from his rookie season.

His goal was to upgrade his speed, lateral mobility, backpedal and change of direction skills after missing four games as a rookie with a high-ankle sprain suffered in his first NFL game.

"From one year to the next, it makes a whole lot of difference from the rookie year to the second year," fullback Vonta Leach said. "Jimmy's played a lot more football now. He's growing up and he's going to step up into that starter's role. He's applied himself."

Now, Smith wants to justify the investment the Ravens have made in him. Smith is signed to a four-year, $7.46 million rookie contract that includes a $3.92 million signing bonus.

"Once you get drafted, you want to prove what you've got," Smith said. "You want to prove to everybody that you belong. It [stinks] that my opportunity came at a time when another player was hurt, but, at the same time, you've got to step up and show what you've got."

awilson@baltsun.com

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