There is hardly anything Ravens cornerback Shareece Wright will not do for best friend and teammate Jimmy Smith. Right now, that entails Wright replacing Smith in the defensive lineup, and it's an assignment Wright fully understands.
"Those are big shoes to fill," Wright said after Wednesday's practice. "Jimmy's a great player, a Pro Bowl player. So I'm just doing whatever I can to help this team win. I know I've got to play well on the outside, and if we play well, we have a better chance of winning. That's just my main focus."
Wright's value increases as Smith missed his fourth consecutive practice because of the sprained right ankle he suffered in the team's loss at the New England Patriots on Dec. 12. Smith's availability for Sunday's AFC North tilt at the Pittsburgh Steelers is still in question.
"Those are things that we assess internally all the time, and we'll continue to do that," coach John Harbaugh said. "We'll play with the guys that we have. If Jimmy is ready, he'll be out there playing. If he's not, then he won't. That's a medical thing. We respect the medical staff on all those injuries. If he can play, he'll play. If he can't, we'll go with the guys that we have."
One of those guys is Wright, who has struggled at times this season. He has surrendered six touchdowns (including five in a three-game span), sat out four contests because of back and hamstring injuries, lost his starting job to rookie Tavon Young and slid to No. 4 on the cornerback depth chart.
But in Sunday's 27-26 win over the Philadelphia Eagles – his first start since Nov. 27 – Wright helped hold wide receiver Jordan Matthews to six catches on 11 targets for only 27 yards and zero touchdowns.
"I just prepared well during the week, starting in practice," Wright said. "I had a good practice, and I was prepared and I was ready, and I was able to have a solid game to help us win."
Harbaugh agreed with that assessment, adding, "He played with good discipline, he played fast, he was glued to his man the whole day. That was in every coverage that we had. So I thought he played well."
The difficulty meter will rise dramatically against the Steelers' Antonio Brown, who ranks second in the NFL in receptions (96) and touchdown catches (11), and third in yards (1,188). Brown finished with seven receptions for 85 yards and one score in the Ravens' 21-14 victory on Nov. 6 while being shadowed by Smith.
Wright said he is eager for the challenge.
"These are the opportunities that you dream about as a kid – playing on Christmas, playing against one of the best receivers in the league and one of the top quarterbacks in the league," Wright said. "He's a special receiver. There are not too many guys like him. He can move, the way he adjusts to the ball, his speed, his technique. He's a veteran guy, so he's got a lot of tricky maneuvers that he uses. And he's got a great quarterback that's getting him the ball. He's a one-of-a-kind guy."