Every week during the season, The Baltimore Sun will spotlight how a member of the Ravens organization does his or her job.

There was a time when Jimmy Smith believed his talent — ideal height for an NFL cornerback, deceptive strength, hair-trigger reactions — would carry him through any problem he might encounter on a football field.


More than he loved the sport, he just seemed built for it. Line him up across from any receiver on the planet, and he believed he'd hold his own man to man.

When Smith was a rookie cornerback as a first-round draft pick for the Ravens in 2011, he never imagined he'd one day employ a small army of health professionals just to get his body ready for each Sunday. He didn't fathom that he'd become a miniature defensive coordinator, studying the habits and intentions of every opposing skill player.

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"Sometimes in college, you win just being better than the other guy," he said. "It works in the league sometimes, but most of the time, talent is not all."

Smith is off to an exceptional start in his seventh professional season. He was one of the few Ravens to play well in the team's humiliating 44-7 defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. He's held opponents to a 20.4 passer rating on balls thrown his way, according to Pro Football Focus.

But his job will only grow more difficult and more vital this week as he prepares to cover Antonio Brown and the rest of a deep, fast corps of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers.

Smith's preparations begin as soon as he leaves the stadium after the previous week's game. If the Ravens are flying back from a road game, as they did from London on Sunday, he flips open his iPad and watches every snap he played from the just-completed contest before the team's charter flight touches down in Baltimore.

"I'm looking at my technique, what I did bad," he said. "I already kind of know in my head what plays I want to see, whether it was a great game or a really bad game."

This is the analytical side of him, the one that makes him say he'd be an FBI investigator if he couldn't play football.

Smith tries to take it easy once he gets home Sunday night, lounging and watching football with buddies.

On Monday, the one weekday he's not expected to be at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, he's focused on rejuvenating his body. He's an early riser, waking at 6 a.m. and flipping on CNN most mornings (he's uneasy about North Korea), but he sleeps in as much as he can the day after a game. Then he hangs out with his 3-year-old son, James, until about 4 p.m. After that, it's massage time.

At 29, Smith needs to build up not just for the games but for practice, which begins Wednesday. He says the treatment he receives from the Ravens training staff only scratches the surface. That's why he pays a masseuse, a dry-needle therapist, a soft-tissue guy, a stretching expert and a pelvic floor specialist to come to his house every week on a steady rotation.

He laughs as he lists them off.

"After a Sunday game, a pretty tough game, your body takes a few days to come back," he said. "You just keep wearing your body down, and you keep trying to bring it back up. You're going to spend a lot of money on people to help you get your body right. … You have to take control of that yourself."

He used to feel fine by Monday or Tuesday. In college, he rarely received any treatment beyond massages and a few minutes in the cold tub. But now, he unashamedly lumps himself in with the "older guys" who take the whole week to recuperate. Smith has played a full 16-game season just twice in his career, so he takes nothing about his body for granted.


As much as players or coaches, Ravens vice president of broadcast Jay O'Brien throws his life into preparing for game day.

He credits past teammates Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Elvis Dumervil with modeling the art of self-maintenance.

As for the upcoming foe, his mind turns there when he cracks open his playbook for the first time on Monday night.

He fits in a weightlifting session Tuesday morning, even though he's still sore, and then he spends most of the afternoon in meetings. Tuesday night, he's intently studying what the Ravens will do on first and second down so he's prepared to run through those schemes at practice Wednesday.

On practice days, he usually eats breakfast with other early arrivers such as wide receivers Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams. And then his brain locks in on the opponent.

There are pluses and minuses when the Steelers come up on the schedule. After years of playing them two or three times a season, Smith knows not just their broad tendencies but the individual ticks of every player from Brown to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to running back Le'Veon Bell.

Brown might be the craftiest, most productive receiver in the game, but in the Ravens' current setup, Smith won't shadow him one on one. He'll cover one side of the field and Brandon Carr will cover the other. That means Smith really does have to study every skill player on the star-studded Pittsburgh offense.

"I think it's harder than it is to match up against one receiver, even though that guy might get the most touches," Smith said. "It's harder to play against a variety of people, because they've got a whole array of moves."

If his study leads him to be most concerned about one aspect of the opponent's game plan, say vertical passing routes, he might also ask the Ravens video staff to make him a package of clips focused on just that.

On Thursday night, Smith hosts the rest of the tight-knit defensive backfield at his house, where they watch the NFL game du jour. It's an exercise in camaraderie, but there's also a work component. Smith long ago stopped watching football like a regular person. He can't help but scout the talent on other teams, the way a certain receiver breaks from the line of scrimmage or the route a quarterback favors in tense situations.

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"We're always learning something, always seeing things," he said.

Smith used to be superstitious about game day, but he's tried to shed that. Only a few tried-and-true rituals remain. Just before he takes the field, Smith always listens to the same gospel song, "Gonna Be a Lovely Day" by Kirk Franklin. He started that during the 2012 Super Bowl season. Before the big game in New Orleans, he peered into the stands and saw Franklin sitting right there. Smith, of course, defended the fourth-down throw that could have put the San Francisco 49ers ahead late in the fourth quarter. So his connection to Franklin was sealed for life.

He's been pressed for time on a few Sundays since then, but he still made sure to duck into the locker room and listen.

For all the elaborate physical and mental preparations he's embraced over the years, Smith's job on the field still boils down to the same essence it did when he was 19 or 20. He has to believe he can hang step for step with any athlete in the world. And that belief can't falter just because he loses on a given play.


"I probably play one of the two hardest positions on the field," he said. "If I had to explain what I do to somebody who had no idea, I'd say, 'I guard the really fast people.'"

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