Eric Rowe grew up watching Steve Smith destroy some of the best NFL cornerbacks with his route running and trash talking.
Then he followed the wide receiver to the University of Utah - some 14 years later - and met Smith when he visited his alma mater and spoke with the players a few years ago.
But that Smith was much different than the one who lined up opposite Rowe on Wednesday. The one that the Eagles rookie faced during joint practices with the Ravens was the mouthy, shifty receiver he watched on television as a youngster.
And it was, at first, surreal. But Rowe, despite being on the short end of Smith's moves and barbs, said the likely Hall of Fame receiver didn't intimidate him.
"He told me to get my feet right. And then when I broke up the pass, he was like, 'I saw in your eyes, it looked like you [soiled] yourself,' " Rowe said. "And I was like, 'No, man, I don't panic out here.' I expected that coming from him, but I just laughed."
Rowe already played in his first (unofficial) NFL game Sunday, but the scrimmage with the Ravens felt like his official introduction to professional football. And it went about the way one would expect for a rookie, even a promising second-round cornerback.
"I feel like it was a good day of work for me. I made a couple of mistakes, but, I mean, it was practice," Rowe said. "As long as I don't make a lot of mistakes the whole practice. I made a few good plays, though."
On the pass breakup, Rowe was beaten by Smith out of the slot, and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco found him in the end zone. But Rowe knocked the ball out at the last moment, much as he did Sunday against the Colts, when he forced a fumble after giving up a completion.
Smith, who announced earlier this month that he would retire after the end of his 15th season, is as feisty as ever. He's not only one of the best receivers of the last 20 years, but he's also - at a generously listed 5-foot-9, 195 pounds - one of the game's great competitors. And when Philadelphia-area reporters asked him about Rowe, he gave hardly an inch.
"He made a play, I think," Smith said. "You can write whatever you want. You're going to find out Saturday. It's 15 years, bro. Fifteen years, come on. A little guy - I'm the guy from Utah. He's from Utah. We're going to come out here, make plays, have fun.
"But I can't assess someone out of a six-second route if he's going to be the next Deion Sanders. I'm not saying that he won't."
Rowe probably would take just being the next starting cornerback for the Eagles. But he's not close to there yet. Byron Maxwell is inked into one spot, and Nolan Carroll is more than penciled into the other. The slot corner position is up for grabs, and Rowe has been tossed into the mix, but his size (6-1, 205) could be a detriment against smaller, shifty slot receivers.
He struggled against the 5-9 Michael Campanaro during one-on-one drills with the Ravens. And when Rowe matched up against Smith, he had trouble adjusting to his moves. Of course, most corners do.
"He's just crafty within his routes," Rowe said of Smith. "He's just doing stuff obviously I haven't seen except for, like, [veteran Eagles receiver] Miles Austin."
Rowe had Smith on the outside late in practice, but the receiver got behind him on a fade route and made the catch. It looked as though the officials ruled that Smith was out of bounds, but Rowe knew he got beat.
"Within the route, he's doing like little in-steps that has me thinking, 'Oh, he's doing this, he's doing this,' " Rowe said. "That's how he got that fade. Boy, I thought he was doing a post, and he went out toward the sideline."
Rowe had some other plays he would likely want back. Ravens receiver Jeremy Butler bested him on a corner fade into the end zone, and he was flagged for pass interference when he grabbed receiver Kamar Aiken.
Those receivers aren't remotely the caliber of Smith. Rowe said that he's working most on his man coverage skills. The Eagles drafted him to play cornerback, but he spent his first three college seasons at safety. His experience inside could help learning the slot position, but he has stood out most as a tackler and using his hands.
"The light's coming on for him," Maxwell said. "He punched three balls out - I don't know if you guys realize that. That's three turnovers."
Rowe said he could see the improvement.
"I've come a long way," he said. "I kind of watched the first couple of [spring workouts], and my technique has gotten better. . . . the way I'm playing tighter on receivers, the way I'm using my feet. I've still got a ways to go, but at least I'm coming along with it."
Round 2 with Smith is Thursday.