Za’Darius Smith’s rookie season featured its ups and downs.
He started the year strong with 10 tackles and 2 sacks in his first four games, until he hit a wall. Over the next six weeks, he only had 5 tackles and zero sacks, cutting his production in half.
New to the game of football, Za’Darius needed reps to become comfortable with the nuances of the game. He finally broke through in the last month of the season. In a four-week span he had 13 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Smith is ready to build on that late-season momentum. With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil sidelined with injuries, he’s received valuable, much-needed reps in their absence.
No longer a hesitant rookie, Ravens coach John Harbaugh likes what he sees from Big Z.
“I tell him all the time, because my expectations are so high, ‘I’m going to be riding you on a regular basis.’ And he loves it,” Harbaugh said. “He wants to be coached and he just gets better every single day. We’re excited about him. We’re looking forward to a good year from him.”
He doesn’t just praise him in person. With the entire team meeting to watch the highlight reel from practice, Za’Darius’ pass rush was featured in back-to-back plays.
“That got me more hyped, like, ‘OK, now I’m doing my job and filling that role,’” Smith said. “That was a good thing for coach to say to me to make me feel more confident in myself.”