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Ravens rookie pass rusher Za'Darius Smith flashes athleticism, skill in first NFL practices

Ravens rookie outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith saw it coming, instinctively anticipating a screen pass from backup quarterback Matt Schaub.

After reading the play, Smith bolted into the flat to intercept Schaub, who threw 16 interceptions the past two seasons with the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders. He signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Ravens this offseason.

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After picking off Schaub, Smith ran it back for a touchdown.

As the Ravens launched their first round of organized team activities, the fourth-round draft pick from Kentucky was one of their most impressive players. Smith flashed athleticism and hustle while rushing the passer.

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Signed to a four-year, $2.763 million contract that includes a $483,124 bonus, Smith is projected as a situational pass rusher behind veteran outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. The Most Valuable Player at the East-West Shrine all-star game, Smith is expected to replace Pernell McPhee. McPhee signed a five-year, $39 million contract in March with the Chicago Bears.

"You have the number and the ponytail, so there's obvious comparison to Pernell, but he's a little different than Pernell in the way he plays," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Smith, who had 61 tackles, 7 1/2 for losses and 4 1/2 sacks as a senior and six sacks as a junior. "He's his own man, very athletic guy, very serious guy in terms of his approach to the game.

"He's a good fit for our defense, so I'm excited about seeing how he does. This is like all those guys. Once we get the pads on, we'll know a lot more. But so far so good."

awilson@baltsun.com

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