Making strides

Troy Smith

Tonight could be QB's best chance to seize job

August 16, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

A year ago, quarterback Troy Smith found himself in a bind.

The Ravens ended training camp with some rookie hazing, tying the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner to a goal post.

This year, Smith breaks camp in a different predicament.

When the Ravens host the Minnesota Vikings in a preseason game tonight, Smith could be starting the most pivotal game of his young NFL career.

If Smith can deliver an offensive spark, he could take the lead in the Ravens' tight quarterback race.

If he struggles, he could fall behind Kyle Boller and never get another crack to be the team's season-opening starter, especially with first-round pick Joe Flacco primed to take over when ready.

Known for being cool under pressure, Smith refused to acknowledge the significance of tonight's game. The Ravens know otherwise.

Asked whether Smith was excited about the opportunity, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said: "That would be the understatement of the day. There's no telling how early he'll be at the stadium."

The Ravens are waiting for a quarterback to step up after neither Boller nor Smith did so in the preseason opener.

Boller completed 11 of 15 passes for 102 yards with the first-team offense, but he turned over the ball twice. Smith was inaccurate (5-for-12 for 74 yards), but he averaged more than 14 yards per completion.

If Smith doesn't capitalize on this opportunity, there is a chance he might not receive another start this preseason.

"I try to treat every situation with the same kind of morale, just put your all into every situation," Smith said. "You don't want to put too much into one and say that one is more important than the next, because you never know."

The biggest change in Smith since last season has been his throwing motion. Trying to get Smith to release the ball more quickly, Cameron shortened his delivery by lowering his arm.

"The long stride that I had before, which sometimes helped me [in college], is not going to help you that much in the NFL," Smith said. "Guys who are incredible quarterbacks, like Joe Flacco, can sometimes get away with it, but I had to change mine up so I could compete."

Cameron has been impressed with Smith's adjustment.

"He has worked as hard in the offseason from a technical standpoint as any quarterback I've been around," he said.

The change in delivery might eventually change Smith's marginal completion percentage. He connected on 52.6 percent of his passes as a rookie and 41.6 percent in the preseason opener.

Cameron said a quarterback's accuracy can be improved through coaching as well as familiarity with teammates.

"Everybody talks about that it just takes time for the quarterback to develop," Cameron said. "But what you're seeing is him develop chemistry with his receivers. [Smith is] in a new system and has a lot of new guys. That always takes time. He's more accurate today than he was yesterday. He'll be more accurate tomorrow than he was today."

What hasn't changed is Smith's leadership, which is considered his biggest asset.

Even though he has just two starts in his NFL career, Smith isn't afraid to challenge his teammates. During practice this week, Smith told his receivers that "sometimes when the ball is not perfect, our guys won't catch it."

Rookie wide receiver Marcus Smith then made a one-handed catch on a post route.

"Obviously, the guys took offense to it," Troy Smith said. "Guys doing things like that, stepping up day in and day out, is what keeps us going."

Like Boller last week, Smith will run the starting offense but won't have the regular starting lineup.

Injuries are expected to sideline running back Willis McGahee (knee), tight end Todd Heap (calf), wide receiver Derrick Mason (knee) and offensive tackles Jared Gaither (ankle) and Adam Terry (ankle).

But tonight's game is more about Smith than his supporting cast.

"The guy's always been a leader, always been a winner," Mason said. "I watched him at Ohio State, [and] all he did was win. He wants to get back to that - back to being that winner, being that leader. I don't see why that can't happen here."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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