Cornerback Jimmy Smith was a big topic of discussion in the past week after he allowed three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown to Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in a matchup of 2011 first-round draft picks.
After that game, Smith declined to speak with reporters, so his defensive coordinator and secondary coach had to answer questions about him during the week. Secondary coach Teryl Austin acknowledged that it wasn't the best performance for Smith, but he said Smith has been "outstanding" this summer. However, Dean Pees, the coordinator, didn't sugarcoat it when he was asked about how Smith played against the Falcons.
"There certainly has been some times when the guys get blamed for something on a coverage that may not be theirs," Pees said Monday. "But for the most part, if the ball is deep and there are two guys there, it's him. I don't know what else to say. That's his dude. That's part of living on the edge and playing defensive back. Look, there's not a defensive back in the Hall of Fame that hasn't gotten beat -- none. Let's be realistic. Everybody gets caught up in this stuff. It's how you learn. … Jimmy is still a young guy. He's still learning."
I don't know how much Smith could have learned in the past week, but he bounced back with a strong performance in the secondary in Thursday night's 34-27 loss. Smith was targeted just twice by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and he didn't allow a single pass to be completed against him, according to Pro Football Focus.
So after the game -- and after reading and hearing criticism of Smith in the past week -- but Harbaugh made a point to publicly praise Smith after Thursday's loss. Asked about the performance of the secondary, he stopped mid-answer and said, "I'm waiting for the Jimmy Smith question. Got one for me?" So a reporter indulged him with a question.
"Jimmy Smith played very well," Harbaugh said, getting laughs from reporters. "He was physical at the line. They've got excellent receivers over there and I think he did a nice job. Thanks for asking."
After the game, Smith, who was talking this week, smiled when he was told about his coach singling him out for praise.
"I went out this week and played the game that I play, which is being physical and standing at the line," Smith said. "It's better for me to do that than the way I played last week."
Pees said that Smith wasn't the playing the type of technique they wanted to see from him last Thursday, that he had a "distinct advantage in a way that he can play" that he didn't use against Jones and the Falcons. That's because Smith was backing off the receiver like Cary Williams used to do here and giving Jones too wide of a cushion at the line of scrimmage.
Smith played with more confidence against the Panthers, who don't have an elite receiver of Jones' ilk -- no offense to Steve Smith, who is still pretty good. More often, he bumped wide receivers at the line and ran with them down the field, the kind of coverage the Ravens envisioned when they drafted the lanky cornerback in the first round two years ago.
Smith still has a lot to learn and a lot to prove to living up to that billing, but Thursday's performance was a nice response from Smith after he struggled to keep up with Jones.