Can Baltimore Ravens CB Cary Williams Fight off Jimmy Smith?

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVJuly 23, 2012

Second-year CB Jimmy Smith has been working with the first-team defense and could steal Cary Williams' starting job.
Second-year CB Jimmy Smith has been working with the first-team defense and could steal Cary Williams' starting job.Rob Carr/Getty Images

One of the most compelling training-camp battles for the Baltimore Ravens this year is between veteran incumbent cornerback Cary Williams and second-year player Jimmy Smith.

Williams is coming off of a February hip surgery from which he is just now 100-percent recovered. In the meantime, Smith spent minicamp and OTAs working with the first-team defense and looks ready to take over Williams' starting job.

The Ravens' hope when they took Smith in the first round of 2011's draft is that he'd someday pan out to be a starter alongside Lardarius Webb, and now it looks like he will have a fair shot to do so when camp commences this week.

Williams was the Ravens' third-leading tackler in 2011, and though he notched no interceptions, he did defend 18 passes and forced two fumbles. Smith, on the other hand, played in a more limited capacity as a rookie, with just 20 tackles but two interceptions on 337 snaps. 

Williams' rise to become a starter and perform so well made him a standout player last season and helped grow the Ravens' reputation as not just fielding one of the best starting defensive front sevens in the league but also one of the stronger secondaries.

Williams spent his previous two years in Baltimore primarily contributing on special teams before being promoted over Domonique Foxworth, who tore his ACL in 2010 and wasn't recovered enough to play in 2011.

But that starting gig may have just been a one-year deal for Williams, considering how well Smith has looked so far this offseason. 

While Williams has more experience than Smith, Smith has youth on his side, as well as the expectation that he was brought onto the team to eventually start. Though Williams shined last season, the hip surgery could ultimately slow him down, and if he cannot prove fast enough to cover receivers, then the Ravens would of course have to look elsewhere for their starter.

The battle between Smith and Williams comes down to three things—whether Smith can keep up the momentum he built in this year's OTAs and minicamp, whether Smith's one year of experience is enough for the Ravens to entrust a starting job to him and whether Williams truly is fully healed from surgery.

It seems simple, written out like that, but this competition is complicated and will continue through the duration of camp and the preseason. A starter may not be announced until camp has wrapped and the coaches can make their final evaluations.

Based on this offseason, it appears that Smith has taken the upper hand in the battle, but considering how Williams successfully came out of nowhere last year, there's no reason to coronate either man starter before camp has begun.

At the very least, the Ravens are in a good situation in their secondary. Williams broke out last year, Smith seems to be on his way to fulfill his first-round potential, Webb is quickly becoming one of the best corners in the league and safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard should continue to perform at a high level this year.