Tale of the tape: Jimmy Smith vs. Josh Norman
In a new series here at Baltimore Sports and Life, we’ll examine some of the leagues All-Pros, their talent, physical attributes, how they are being schemed, and discuss the attributes the Ravens need to be looking for at those positions. In addition, we can compare the All-Pro in discussion to the Ravens counterpart and see where there are similarities and differences.
BSL’s Shawn Brubaker did this earlier in the week with pass rushers, examining the speed difference between Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, versus that of Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw.
Discuss your thoughts on this topic on our message board.
So let’s go to the tale of the tape. First, a man Peyton Manning will be paying close attention to this Sunday…
CB – Josh Norman
HT/WT: 6’0” / 195 lbs.
Draft: 2012, Round 5, Coastal Carolina
Combine: 4.66 40-time. 33” Vert.
Draft day analysis: (C/O NFL.com)
STRENGTHS: Norman can play man and zone equally well and was a physical presence on the outside of the defense at Coastal Carolina. He understands when to take risks and when to play back, and he is physical when he makes his decision to come up. He supports the run well and is a reliable tackler. He works well to feel with his hands to stay on a receiver in-phase, and has the hip mobility to move with his man all over the field.
WEAKNESSES: Norman has not faced top-level competition at Coastal Carolina and could have an adaption period early on. He will need to contribute on special teams to stick, which he hasn’t done much at Coastal. He is taller and can struggle with some hip/transitional movements moving to his left, but it’s not a major concern and surely will be part of the adaptation process.
And, his counterpart, the Ravens cornerback atop their depth chart…
CB – Jimmy Smith
HT/WT: 6’2” / 206 lbs.
Draft: 2011, Round 1, Colorado
Combine: 4.46 40-time. 36″ Vert.
Draft day analysis:(C/O NFL.com)
STRENGTHS: Smith has outstanding height for a corner coupled with good speed. Very effective in press-man using his length and size to jam and re-route. Can turn and run, recover when beat, and break up passes with his great leaping ability and ball skills. Likes to mix it up in run support and is also very physical here.
WEAKNESSES: Hip stiffness in his angular, long build shows when playing off-man and breaking on underneath routes. Not as comfortable in zone as in press-man. Needs to be more consistent getting his head turned around to avoid interference calls. Must take better angles when tackling in the open field.
Let’s talk schemes. Josh Norman plays on a Carolina defense that favors the nickel corner. They often run out of a 5 DB, 2 LB, four-man front. A “nickel zone”. In fact, they do a great job of changing their look, running out of a base 4-3 cover-2 alignment just 11% of the time. Carolina’s defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott, is definitely playing chess, while others play checkers. That’s something that can happen when they have a guy like Luke Kuechly manning the middle of the defense and being the general.
When it comes to physical ability, Josh Norman’s draft analysis is certainly poorer on the surface than Jimmy Smith’s. He was in fact a bit of a project coming out of Coastal Carolina. But he got better, physically and mentally. He has proven that he can play in the complexity of the Carolina defense. He also proved that the 4.66 40-time he posted must be a thing of the past. He has been exceptional in defending the deep ball. He’s allowed just four catches on 24 targets on deep balls, one INT, one TD. 80 yards total on the four catches. Looks like he is just fine keeping up with the 4.3, 4.4 second speedsters the league employs these days.
Late in the season, Josh Norman got to face Julio Jones twice, and Odell Beckham in the span of three weeks. Jones averages 12.7 targets per game, and Beckham, 10.5. In all three matchups, their respective quarterbacks only went in the direction of these stud receivers and Josh Norman, six times in each contest. Granted, in the 18 chances Jones and Beckham got over that three game span, they caught 13 balls. We’re talking about two of quite possibly the absolute best WRs in the NFL today. They are going to get theirs, and all you can do is hope to limit the damage.
Norman limited the damage allowing just 140 yards over those 13 catches, and a score to Beckham. One of just two scores he allowed in coverage all year.
The former Chanticleer was a late bloomer. But he is no doubt a force, aided by great coaching that has helped him develop all aspects of his game. They put him in a position to succeed. Can the same be said for Jimmy Smith?
The short answer, no. Let’s look at his scouting report again. Strengths include press-man coverage where he uses his size to jam and re-route. Speed to keep up, leaping ability to break up. Weaknesses include off coverage, not comfortable in zone, breaking on underneath routes. What does Dean Pees love to dial up on the Ravens defense? Zone coverage. Off-coverage. Coverage that get’s picked apart on underneath routes.
Pees called out Smith this season, asking him to be more aggressive. Is it the chicken or the egg? Does Smith get told where to be, or does he chose to play off the ball far enough where he isn’t as strong?
There was reports that after the Ravens wrapped up their 2015 season, Smith admitted that lingering effects from the foot injury that ended his 2014 season, had carried over. Thus, slowing him down. If that’s his story, okay. I’m not going to speculate on his health. It makes sense if he wasn’t playing aggressive enough for Pees’ liking that he was favoring an injury, and some guys will play through pain because it’s in the athlete’s DNA to not give up.
But the calling out by his coach may have lit a fire in Smith. He was targeted 56 times in the first eight games of the season. Seven times a game, and that’s more than Norman was targeted covering All-World Everything receivers I mentioned earlier. In the final eight games, Smith was targeted just 25 times, allowing just 151 yards in his direction. That’s more like the shutdown Jimmy Smith we are expecting from a first round pick with the size, speed, and athleticism he possesses. Pro Football Focus ranked him as their sixth best corner in the second half of the season.
The first half of the season, they ranked Smith 92nd.
When it comes to the Ravens scheme, they are pretty vanilla. They operate out of a base 3-4, a lot of zone coverage. They bring in the nickel package when the down and distance calls for it. The real strength is in their front seven where Pees can dial up blitz looks from anywhere. Sometimes you’ll see a snap where just one guy has his hands in the dirt. It can confuse a QB when he doesn’t know where the rush is coming from. In the secondary it’s nothing special. Pees isn’t a guy who plays chess on defense like McDermott is. I’m excited to see the chess match between Peyton Manning and his defense unfold this Sunday. The Ravens have had guys that do understand the complexity of “organized chaos”. Rex Ryan and Chuck Pagano most recently. But they also had a general in Ray Lewis that could run it. That could make changes on the fly. Those days are long gone. Terrell Suggs can make some calls, but we missed him in 2015 as well. He also isn’t getting any younger.
I feel confident in saying that Josh Norman has benefitted from great coaching, and a defensive style that forces the opposition to make bad decisions. They are a speedy zone team that closes windows in a blink and creates turnovers. Seven of them against the Cardinals in the NFC title game.
Jimmy Smith has all the physical tools to be a shutdown corner. He just has to stay healthy, which has been an issue. If you consider that he played hurt in 2015, according to him, then he has played a full season healthy exactly once in five years. Health aside, with Smith’s attributes, he doesn’t need a defense like the Rex Ryan’s and Sean McDermott’s draw up to make him successful. He can be a playmaker all on his own, on his own little island. If he is “shut down”, it shrinks the field, and benefits his teammates in a big way.
It’s doesn’t look like there is one specific formula for making an All-Pro corner. Some guys just have “it”. Like Jimmy Smith when he is on his game, Patrick Peterson, Darrell Revis, Aquib Talib, among others. Some guys need to be developed into greatness. I think Josh Norman falls into that category. Similar to the way Lardarius Webb was years back in his prime. A project out of Nicholls State who with the right coaching and system, was “shut down”….for one year.
Will be interesting to see if McDermott gets a head coaching job one day, how Josh Norman continues to evolve under new tutelage and defensive ideology.
For the Ravens sake, if they are targeting a cornerback to add to the stable with reports of Webb moving to safety, then they should make it one with all the physical tools already. If they are looking to improve the secondary right now, I don’t think they are in a position to wait for the development of a late round pick. Tray Walker was that kind of pick last year. One project guy is enough.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]