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Jimmy Smith wary of 'ticky tack' penalties

8/12/2014

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens' Jimmy Smith is a big, physical cornerback who excels at jamming wide receivers and throwing them off their routes.

His style of play, however, is now in the crosshairs of NFL officials this season.

A major "point of emphasis" is cutting down contact by pass defenders after 5 yards, which has led to penalty flags littering fields this summer. In the first 17 preseason games, there were 53 defensive holdings, 27 illegal contacts and 15 pass interference calls -- which is almost six pass-defense penalties per game.

"You don't want to play tentative where you don't want to be on your game, but, at the same time, you know it's going to be ticky-tack. So, after those 5 yards, you really can't touch him," Smith said. "So, you really do have to cover with your feet."

Smith developed into one of the top young cornerbacks in the league last season because of his press coverage. He limited some of the best wide receivers in the game, including Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, by playing that way.

But his emergence also led to an increase in flags. Smith committed six pass-defense penalties last season, and only St. Louis' Janoris Jenkins had more.

So, the spike in holding, illegal contact and pass interference penalties this summer has certainly grabbed Smith's attention.

"It's a big adjustment, actually," Smith said. "Having these referees out here [at training camp], you start to really realize how ticky-tack all these fouls are going to be called. The referees say the same -- it's not going to be easy this year. Every game, you're really going to have to be on your P's and Q's after 5 yards as far as touching people."

Judging by the number of flags on the secondary during the three-day joint practice with the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens are still trying to adjust to the new rules emphasis.

It wasn't as prevalent for the Ravens in the preseason opener, when only two Ravens defensive backs were penalized. Chykie Brown was flagged for holding and pass interference (later declined), and Deji Olatoye was called for illegal contact.

"The [officials] out here that have been with us, they're trying to figure it out, too, [what] exactly they're going to call," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We teach our guys to play good technique. When you play good technique within the rules, then you're going to be fine. That's what we always try to do, and we'll try to continue to do that."

The increase in penalties this preseason isn't the only concern for Smith. He can only imagine where the game is headed.

"In 10 years, it will just be 7-on-7 and illegal to play man coverage, I'm sure," Smith joked.