Rolling the dice with Jimmy Smith
“Just because you are a character, doesn’t mean you have character.” – Winston Wolf in “Pulp Fiction”
Character was the buzzword of the night when it came to the newest Baltimore Raven, cornerback Jimmy Smith of Colorado.
The Scarface T-shirt Smith wore on draft day indicates that Smith is a character. General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Coach John Harbaugh and Owner Steve Bisciotti are gambling that Smith actually has character.
On the surface, Smith is everything the Ravens would seem to need: a big (6’2, 220 pounds), fast (4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash), physical corner that can tackle. The Ravens believe his one-on-one cover skills will translate well to the team’s blitz-happy style. The immediate comparison is to Chris McAlister, the former Raven that was a lockdown corner for nearly a decade.
The problem is, Smith is a knucklehead: he flunked three tests for drugs at Colorado – including one for codeine, an ingredient of cough syrup, used to make the “Purple Drank” that got JaMarcus Russell in trouble – had two alcohol-related incidents and an arrest for assault. His record at Colorado indicates a guy that, come Sunday, could either be on the field or in a jail cell.
Ever since they hired Harbaugh in 2008, the Ravens have tried to avoid this kind of player. After a spate of arrests in the early 2000s – highlighted by former cornerback Corey Fuller’s bust for running a high stakes poker game THEN having a shootout at his home – the Ravens made a conscious choice to draft good guys from good programs (Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Michael Oher for example) and avoid knuckleheads. The Ravens were modeling themselves on the Bill Belichick New England Patriots.
I suppose the thinking with Smith is not unlike the Pats’ thinking when they took on some knuckleheads like Corey Dillon, Randy Moss and Brandon Meriweather: we have the structure here to handle this guy.
While Smith’s talent is unquestioned, he would have been a top-15 pick without the baggage, the Ravens need to look no further than last year to see how taking risks on guys like this can go wrong.
With their first pick in the second round of the 2010 draft, the Ravens gambled on Texas product Sergio Kindle, a fierce pass-rusher with knee and character issues in his past. It didn’t take long for Big Serg to burn the Ravens: he fell down some stairs and fractured his skull before training camp, causing him to miss the season. As if that weren’t enough, Kindle was then arrested for DUI in December, his second DUI arrest in three years. It’s up in the air whether he’ll ever play a down for the Ravens.
The player Smith is compared to, McAlister, was also a knucklehead who loved the nightlife. When Brian Billick was coach that was fine, since C-Mac was a productive player. But when Harbaugh took over, player and coach did not get along and McAlister was sent packing by midseason.
The reaction within the fan base and media seems pretty split on this one. Ozzie is rolling the dice on this guy big time. Ozzie’s track record is excellent – hence the mantra “In Ozzie We Trust” – but after getting burned by Kindle last year, why did he feel the need to play craps with another guy with issues? Apparently, Harbaugh begged Oz to take Smith; if the coach couldn’t handle McAlister, what makes him think he can handle this knucklehead?
I’ll reserve my judgment until I see Smith on the field, but he looks like a guy that could either help the Ravens get to the Super Bowl or be a colossal headache that needs to be bailed out of jail once a season. Hell, the guy hasn’t been with the team for 24 hours and there hasn’t been a dull moment in the Jimmy Smith Era.