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Ravens outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith at mandatory minicamp.
Ravens outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith at mandatory minicamp. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Unless they are first or second round draft picks, coaches usually prefer to stay away from using rookies early, especially in the first quarter of the season.

They prefer to allow time to learn, absorb and adapt to the pace of the game. Ravens coach John Harbaugh, though, might have no choice but to use rookies Carl Davis and Za'Darius Smith.

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Davis, a third round pick and defensive tackle out of Iowa, has played well throughout training camp and the four preseason games. He needs to work on his upper body strength, but his wide body will come in handy during goal line and other short yardage situations.

With starter Timmy Jernigan slowed by several nagging injuries, Davis should get a lot of reps in the game against Denver on Sunday.

Smith, an outside linebacker who was a fourth round pick out of Kentucky, has looked good at times. But he needs to be more consistent and improve his technique. He is the fourth outside linebacker behind Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw, but the Ravens might need a pair of fresh legs in the opener.

Because of the altitude, Denver is a tough place to play for visiting teams. Also, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has a quick release, so it's always good to have fresh players, especially in the second half.

Harbaugh won't hesitate to use Davis and Smith. Again, it might be more out of necessity.

"We feel good about it in the sense that those guys have earned the right to do that," Harbaugh said. "You say, 'How do we feel about two rookies having a key role on defense?' It depends on the two rookies. Carl [Davis] has played extremely well. [He] fits into our scheme, our package really well. We saw that. We were happy to get him, and he has done nothing to disappoint us.

"Za'Darius Smith, he's learning from three of the best. You have two veteran guys and one up-and-coming guy in Courtney [Upshaw] that he gets to learn from. He's learning how to play the game the right way at that position, and he's built for the position, and he really wants to be good. We're happy with both those guys."

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