By David Ginsburg, AP Sports Writer
The Baltimore Ravens have started to put together a defense without cornerback Jimmy Smith, who practiced Aug. 22 but won’t be eligible to play in a game until October.
Smith has been suspended for the first four regular-season games without pay for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. The suspension, announced Aug. 21, came “following a long-running and difficult custody dispute” Smith had with his former girlfriend, the Ravens said.
The 30-year-old Smith will be allowed to participate in all of the Ravens’ preseason activities, including games. Come Sept. 9, however, Baltimore will open at home against Buffalo without arguably their best cover cornerback.
Fortunately for the Ravens, they’re deep at the position. Also, they were forced to make a similar adjustment last season when Smith missed the final month with a torn left Achilles tendon.
“It’s what I’ve been talking about all training camp. We have a lot of depth,” first-year defensive coordinator Don Martindale said Aug. 22. “Some guys are just going to have to step up early. We’re still working on how we’re going to do that.”
The final solution will probably remain under wraps until the season opener.
“I’m not going to tell the rest of the league, especially Buffalo, how we’re going to it,” Martindale said. “We’ll just have to see. We’ve got plenty of players who can play.”
Tavon Young is listed behind Smith on the depth chart at right cornerback. Young started 11 games in 2016 before missing last season with a knee injury.
Before the Ravens considered what to do in Smith’s absence, the team discussed whether to bring him back at all.
The Ravens were at the center of a domestic dispute in 2014 — one that led to the release of running back Ray Rice — and say they considered the circumstances surrounding Smith’s suspension before making a decision about his future with the team.
Team officials say a meeting involving “a group of Ravens men and women executives” was convened before the organization determined that Smith could return after his suspension.
“Jimmy has acknowledged his behaviors were wrong and accepts full responsibility for them,” the team said in a statement.
Smith apologized for his actions in a separate statement conveyed through the team.
After practice Wednesday, the Ravens did not make Smith, coach John Harbaugh or leading players of the defense available to the media.
Martindale said: “It’s a serious matter. The organization had their statement and Jimmy had his. From the father/coach in me, I know there are mistakes made in life and he’s going to have to deal with it.”
Seeking to end a run of three straight seasons without reaching the playoffs, the Ravens would have preferred to open with their defense fully intact. But playing without Smith is really nothing new — in his previous seven years in the NFL, he’s participated in all 16 games only twice.
His absence could help fourth-round draft pick Anthony Averett make the cut. Averett, a two-year starter at Alabama, is behind Young on the depth chart.