The Smiths: Ordinary Names Have Extraordinary Seasons
By Joe Platania
All told, 10 players named Smith have taken the field during at least one Ravens regular-season game.
It might be an ordinary surname to some, but throughout the team's history, a few of those Smiths have made their marks in rather extraordinary ways.
• The first Smith of note, defensive end Fernando Smith, was the first Raven ever to recover two fumbles during one game, doing so in Atlanta in 1999.
• Running back Musa Smith's career in Baltimore could have been longer, but he was one of the victims of former Dallas safety Roy Williams' horse-collar tackles, which were high-profile enough to provoke a rule change.
• Quarterback Troy Smith was an ultra-confident, rocket-armed signal-caller taken during the fifth round of the 2007 draft, the first Heisman Trophy winner the team selected.
This year, James Smith has excelled on both sides of the ball. ... No, that's not as implausible as it sounds, because that is the given name for the Ravens' 2011 first- and second-round draft picks.
Because of their high draft status, much has been expected of the two similarly named Smiths, and much has been delivered.
After suffering a training camp groin injury and a high ankle sprain on a kickoff return during the regular-season opener and missing four subsequent games, first-round draft pick and former University of Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith returned in Week Seven at Jacksonville.
|Jimmy Smith (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams started each of the Ravens' first 12 games, so Jimmy Smith has had to undergo a gradual process to get back on the field, starting with seeing time on special teams and then the dime package.
At long last, Jimmy Smith -- the first defensive player the Ravens have taken during the first round since defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006 -- earned his first start during the Week 13 win at Cleveland, where the team deployed its nickel package on the game's first play.
Jimmy Smith, the 27th overall pick, has also put his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame -- one of the biggest cornerback physiques the Ravens have ever had -- right where it had to be to haul in his first two NFL interceptions.
Jimmy Smith's route recognition played a part in the second pickoff. He sat on a short route run by Cleveland wideout Mohamed Massaquoi, picked off Colt McCoy's pass and ran it back 32 yards deep into Browns territory to set up a field goal just before halftime.
Jimmy Smith himself admitted around the time of the draft that he was often found where he shouldn't be; off-field questions dogged him and sent his draft stock spiraling downward. But, by the time he was a Colorado senior, he hadn't been in trouble in more than two years and his maturity level had spiked dramatically.
"Most of the mistakes I made, or the bad decisions I made, were when I was 18, 19 years old, so they were more like a maturity thing," Jimmy Smith said. "I can tell them everything in the world, but if I didn't have my coaching staff backing me or people that they talked to that I don't even know they talked to, if those people said bad things, then I wouldn't be here right now."
Teammates have also rallied around Jimmy Smith. They know that not only are his mind and body rounding into the kind of form the pro game requires, but his skill set is also such that he can help the team get younger, faster, deeper and even better on defense.
Safety Ed Reed has been especially helpful with bringing Jimmy Smith along, but not at the kind of breakneck pace that could either re-aggravate his injuries or generally burn him out early.
"I've been talking to Jimmy the whole time just to be smart, understand that you have time," Reed said. "You have a career out of this. It's not one year. It's not a one-year career. Don't rush back (after your injury in Week One). Don't rush back at all."
As for former University of Maryland wideout Torrey Smith, his was a training camp filled with confusion, dropped balls, misalignments and constant questions about whether he was worth the 58th overall selection (second round).
|Torrey Smith (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
"Maybe a little off-balanced, not getting out as quick as I should," Torrey Smith said of his training camp troubles. "If I can get out (into my routes), I am pretty explosive. If I can show that quickness so I can get in and out of breaks fine, it's just trying to translate my speed and trying to get out.
"(In training camp) I was going 100 miles per hour, and then having those rough turns, but now that I understand the technique and things like that, everything is a whole lot smoother."
There was no question that Torrey Smith had the speed to separate from even the most experienced cover corners. That was especially true in Week Three at St. Louis, where Torrey Smith became the first rookie in league history to catch three touchdown passes during the first quarter of a game. His 152-yard, five-catch, three-score day opened eyes around the league.
But what the former Terp also needed was the field savvy and the knowledge to master the entire route tree and put himself in a position to achieve consistentcy.
The evolution came slowly, but it was plain to see that Torrey Smith was becoming a badly needed option at a position that demanded it. Following his big day at St. Louis, Torrey Smith caught two or more passes during seven of the Ravens' next nine games, including a 165-yard, six-reception day against Cincinnati that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
"He stretches the field for us," running back Ray Rice said of Torrey Smith. "You've got to play us honest. For a guy like Anquan Boldin, and Lee Evans getting back healthy, our receiving corps is only going to get better.
"(Torrey Smith is) a stretcher. He's going to stretch the field, and the thing that he's added to his game is he's catching underneath routes now. And that's big for us. Teams are going to notice that. Now he's starting to come up, catch underneath, and that's going to be big for us going forward."
Through 12 games, Torrey Smith has blossomed to the point that his 645 receiving yards set a single-season Ravens rookie record, breaking the old mark Mark Clayton set in 2005.
"I don't if I've really looked at the arc of (Torrey Smith's development)," coach John Harbaugh said. "But, I think he's making more and more catches when he has opportunities to make them. He's been a guy that we thought could go get a deep ball, and he can kind of put in another gear at the end, and go chase down a ball. [He can] extend and make a catch. That's what we saw of him in college, and he's been able to transfer that.
"I like all of the other little things, too -- the out routes, the inside breaking routes he's making some plays on. That's part of becoming a complete receiver."
Of course, there are growing pains that come with being a rookie, such as the moment Torrey Smith was tackled by his dreadlocked hair against the Bengals, a legal play per NFL rules.
Torrey Smith was breaking clear near midfield at the time, and if his hair was shorter, the play could have resulted in another touchdown.
"That was my first time having it happen," Torrey Smith said. "I was in shock. I straightened up my back, thinking he was going to try to grab my jersey. Next thing I know, I'm getting pulled by my dreads. I started to pull away; I thought I was going to score, and next thing I know, I was getting dragged down by my dreads. I was kind of confused.
"I thought it was going to hurt. That's why I thought it was my jersey at first. Then, I was like, 'He got me by my hair.' "
In the end, it was just another extraordinary experience during an eventful season being turned in by two men with the most ordinary of names.
Issue 168: December 2011