navigation-background arrow-down-circle Reply Icon Show More Heart Delete Icon wiki-circle wiki-square wiki arrow-up-circle add-circle add-square add arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up calendar-circle chat-bubble-2 chat-bubble check-circle check close contact-us credit-card drag menu email embed facebook-circle facebook-square facebook faq-circle faq film gear google-circle google-square google history home instagram-circle instagram-square instagram linkedin-circle linkedin-square linkedin load monitor Video Player Play Icon person pinterest-circle pinterest-square pinterest play readlist remove-circle remove-square remove search share sign-out star trailer trash twitter-circle twitter-square twitter youtube-circle youtube-square youtube

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

Daryl Smith Proves To Be Steal Of Free-agent Class

November 15, 2013

Here is an illustration of how football is a game of both body and mind.

From his inside linebacker spot, Baltimore's Daryl Smith's eyes scanned the Pittsburgh Steelers' alignment in an effort to discern the direction in which the Steelers would be going on a late-second-quarter play.

Issue 191: Ravens 2013: Daryl Smith
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

The Oct. 20 game, pivotal to the Ravens' AFC North division and playoff hopes, was in danger of slipping away, with the Steelers holding a 10-3 lead and driving for another score. Pittsburgh was facing second-and-12 on its own 31, and another early score would be crucial to maintaining momentum and taking Baltimore out of the game early.

At the snap, Smith moved into a cleared-out, well-blocked area, which would have seemed to be ripe territory for a running play, the kind of play with which the run-starved Steelers had had success earlier during the game. Instead, the Steelers had sent one of their most reliable targets, tight end Heath Miller, into that piece of territory for a pass.

Hardened by laboring in near obscurity for most of his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars -- the franchise for which he is the all-time leading tackler -- Smith flowed into the space as if he were airborne. He took Miller down and stripped the ball from his grasp; teammate Matt Elam recovered it, setting up a field goal, which cut the Baltimore deficit to four points.

The Steelers' eventual six-point win wasn't Smith's fault during a game -- and, for that matter, a season -- when he has shown off the moves that have made him, a one-year, $1.1 million signee, the steal of a free-agent class that brought two other defensive players the Ravens have already cut, safety Michael Huff and defensive end Marcus Spears.

In what looks to be a never-ending quest to replace future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Ravens have gotten mixed results. Huff was supposed to take Reed's free safety spot, but he failed in coverage and was inconsistent at best in special-teams duty.

For his part, Smith was assigned Lewis' middle linebacker position, and his experience and work ethic have given the Ravens a team-leading tackler, who either tied or led the team in stops during seven of the team's first nine games of the season.

During the season's first half, Smith led the team with 71 total tackles, but what is perhaps most impressive about that is the balance that led to that number, an indication that he has been around the ball on nearly every defensive snap the team has played this season. 

Smith's 38 solo stops through nine games were tied with cornerback Corey Graham for first on the team, while Smith's 42 assists led the squad.

Smith seems driven partly by a desire to prove the Jaguars were wrong in letting him test the free-agent market. His first regular-season game with the Ravens was in Denver Sept. 5. Baltimore allowed an NFL-record-tying seven touchdown passes to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, but that was an aberration.

"You don't ever want to have a performance like [the Denver game again]," Smith said. "So, each week, we're going to concentrate on getting better. Each week, we want to concentrate on getting better, and that's what we've been doing. …

"And each week, we'll grow together. We'll gain more chemistry. We'll learn to trust each other more."

The Ravens' improved play against opposing tight ends -- they allowed eight catches to tight ends during their three games before the season's midway point -- is a result of the defense's Smith-led commitment to learning to play better together.

Tight ends such as Denver's Julius Thomas and Cleveland's Jordan Cameron had caused the Ravens no end of trouble during the season's first two weeks, but a big play Smith made during Week Three against the Houston Texans -- on the day predecessor Lewis was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor -- was a game changer.

The 6-foot-2, 248-pound Smith is one of five active-roster players who have 10 or more years' worth of NFL experience, and his seasoned approach to the game has fit in well on a team that tried to get younger this year.

That kind of savvy helped when, on a first-down play late during the second quarter against Houston, Smith predicted that Texans quarterback Matt Schaub would try to find tight end Owen Daniels in the left seam. 

Smith jumped in front of Daniels, snared Schaub's pass and ran 37 yards into the east (tunnel) end zone to put the Ravens in front to stay during a three-minute, 17-point burst, which turned the game around.

On a 2013 team that hasn't forced as many turnovers as Ravens teams of the past have, Smith's score was the Ravens' only defensive touchdown of the season's first half.

Head coach John Harbaugh seemed to appreciate not only the play, but also Smith's overall presence.

"We ran a little zone where we were passing off the coverage there, and Daryl anticipated the route, stepped right in front of it," Harbaugh said. "It was just a great play. I've seen him make that play a bunch of times in practice. 

"The impact he's had on defense? It's sort of fitting, and I guess there is an article to be written here, about Ray going into the Ring of Honor, and Daryl playing the way he played -- not only in this game, but the way he's played all year. 

"To try to transition that position, it's probably pretty deep, and you can probably come up with something there -- you may want to give it some thought." 

Despite his experience, the 31-year-old Smith, who went to Georgia Tech, had to basically re-learn the game -- or, at least, the Ravens' way of playing it -- if he were going to succeed with a new team.

"Even Daryl Smith, who is a veteran pro and plays very, very well for a veteran pro, [he] still had to learn our system," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "And the more he sees things, the easier it is for him to play them. He's just got the experience of playing in the league for many years. I've been very happy with what I've seen so far." 

For Smith's part, working with a new set of teammates was just as important -- if not more so -- than learning a new playbook.

"The more time we spend together, I think that will continue to grow," Smith said. "Like I said, we'll just continue to work and talk and communicate. The communication has definitely been better, too. We'll continue to do all that, and hopefully we'll continue to get better."

Even during a season when the Ravens have suffered more costly losses than normal, Smith's play, driven by both body and mind, has been a bargain.

Issue 191: November 2013