It's taken three years for Jimmy Smith to become the player many expected he'd be after the Ravens drafted him with their first pick in the 2011 draft.
A shutdown corner in college at Colorado, Smith learned the hard way that it wouldn't be as easy to defend opposing receivers as it was at the previous level of football. After two years and some change, Smith has stepped up as one of the most improved cornerbacks on this roster.
On Monday, he'll get the toughest challenge of his young career when Calvin Johnson lines up against him.
"I actually got to face him last year in the preseason. [I'm] a little bit familiar — not too much — but a little bit with what he likes to do and how he runs," Smith told reporters at the Ravens' team facility. "It wasn't a full, real game. I'm sure he has some more to bring. But yes, it's going to be a huge challenge for all of us."
Smith has garnered much of the attention as the one who will line up against Johnson all game. This isn't necessarily true — at least based on history. The Ravens keep their cornerbacks locked in at their positions for the most part. In two-cornerback sets, Smith mans the right side and Lardarius Webb takes the left. When the Ravens move to nickel, Webb moves inside and Corey Graham takes over the left side.
There's not a lot of matching up in defensive coordinator Dean Pees' defensive scheme.
But if the Ravens' staff feels comfortable with Smith shadowing Johnson, maybe they implement something new this week.
"We don't move around a lot because we've got a lot of confidence in our corners," Smith said. "Whatever the game plan we bring is on Monday night, that's how we're going to bring it. If they ask us to move and do things, we're always going to be willing to do that."
Johnson's unique combination of size (6-5, 236 pounds) and speed (4.32 40-yard dash) makes him a tough assignment for anyone — even for the likes of Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman and Joe Haden. You'd think combating Johnson's physical style of play at the line of scrimmage would be a smart strategy.
But sometimes it's not that simple.
"This guy — he's so big and so physical," Smith said. "Doing too much can take me out of my game, and doing too much might take him out of his game. This game is one of those games where you want to be physical because he's that type of player. But at the same time, you want to rely on your technique."