Former UK Football standout and current outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens Za’Darius Smith has been working hard this summer – winning $1 bet against NFL-trolling head coach John Harbough and turning heads during summer practices.
According to Dev Panchwag of russellstreetreport.com, Smith has seriously bulked up his 6-foot-4 frame and is showing off some impressive new moves on the practice field. Panchwag dropped some details about the former Cat’s progress and nimbleness, recalling that in an early sequence of 11-on-11 drills, Smith dropped back a few time and was able to flip his hips with ease to track receivers in the open field. Later, during one play, Smith anticipated the timing of a pass and nearly tipped the ball.
Panchwag had high praise for Smith, favorably comparing his progress to that of Parnell McPhee’s in his second year.
“If you were to compare his progress with Pernell McPhee just in terms of cover skills and open-field instincts, Smith is clearly ahead of where McPhee was in his second year.”
This is good news for Smith, who last year in his rookie season, was forced to line up on the edge of the defense due to teammate Terrell Sugg’s Week 1 injury to his Achilles. Suggs would not return for the entire season, forcing the Ravens to use Smith in a way that was never intended.
When the Ravens drafted Smith in the fourth round last year, they were hoping for a Parnell McPhee 2.0 and a nimble linebacker that could feel the void left by McPhee. However, due to Sugg’s injury, a rookie Smith took on a different and larger role in a trio alongside Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw.
Despite the circumstances and a few rough starts, Smith still ended last season on a tear – posting 3-5 sacks during his final four games and finishing the year with 5.5 total sacks, just a half-sack behind team leader Dumervil.
Now that Smith is in his sophomore season, and with Sugg’s making progress rehabbing his surgically-repaired Achilles, the focus has been on getting Smith back to being the player the Ravens originally envisioned.
And it looks like Smith is doing just that.
A good omen, considering the Ravens might need Smith to assume a larger role due to the loss of Upshaw to the Falcons and Dumervil’s recovery from an offseason foot surgery. Everybody saw what happened to the Raven’s pass rush last year when Sugg’s went down, and it seems this year all eyes will be on Smith.