Passing Time: For Now, Smith's Primary Value Is As A No. 2

August 16, 2009|By MIKE PRESTON

Troy Smith might become a starting quarterback in the NFL one day, but right now he is the ideal backup for the Ravens.

He is familiar with the offense, has a fairly strong arm and plays with an edge. But most importantly, he can make plays with his legs as well as his arm, which is perfect for a backup.

In a perfect world, you want your No. 2 quarterback to be as good as the No. 1. But the separation between the two becomes greater during the regular season because the starter gets most of the repetitions while the No. 2 stands on the sideline with his baseball cap on backward charting plays.

Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco, in his second season, performed well Thursday night in the Ravens' 23-0 win over the Washington Redskins. The offense had a good flow, and Flacco was accurate and effective. Smith, in his third year, was just as impressive and efficient, and you left M&T Bank Stadium feeling pretty good about the Ravens' quarterback situation for the 2009 season.

"It's been drilled into both of our heads to spread the ball around, to not have tunnel vision," said Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State. "It's a key thing that [offensive coordinator Cam Cameron] likes to say, day in and day out. And obviously, [quarterbacks coach] Hue Jackson did a tremendous job with helping to broaden our horizon as far as this passing game goes.

"The sky is the limit for both of us. I continue to learn from Joe on a day-in and day-out basis. He's an incredible leader for our team, and I'm going to do nothing but follow right now."

That's what you want to hear from Smith, and he certainly looked ready Thursday night to step in for Flacco if called upon. Smith has always been mobile, but unlike in his first two seasons, he now runs with a purpose. He knows where his receivers are and where he has to get on the field to find them.

That's a key ingredient with a backup. A lot of the time, reserves have to ad lib because they haven't had much time working with the first unit. Smith can follow the script or make a big play when it breaks down.

He did it several times against the Redskins on Thursday night. One time he started to his right and then scrambled back to his left to throw a nice, floating 35-yard pass down the left sideline to tight end L.J. Smith.

Near the end of the first half, Troy Smith ran the two-minute drill to near-perfection, ending with a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Justin Harper that showed Smith's accuracy and touch.

Smith did have some rough moments as some of his early passes sailed high, but he got better as the game went on. Ultimately, he wants to prove that he can be a starter in the NFL.

But for now, he'll have spot duty with the Ravens. They'll use him as the quarterback in the Wildcat offense and also as a wide receiver. Those moves will make opposing defensive coordinators nervous, but they enable the Ravens to get their best athletes onto the field and keep Smith's head in the game.

Smith is part of a major transition made by the Ravens in the offseason. At this time last season, the players were still trying to figure out first-year head coach John Harbaugh. They were testing his philosophy and his resolve.

But since the Ravens realized how close they came to winning a Super Bowl, a lot of the selfishness is gone. Le'Ron McClain isn't worried about being a halfback anymore, but a true fullback. Running back Willis McGahee looks like he has been rejuvenated, and Smith seems to have settled in as a backup.

Is he happy about it? No. He shouldn't be because Smith is a competitor and has to keep that edge to reach his goal of someday being a starter somewhere.

Yet here in Baltimore, he knows his role and is learning from one of the best offensive coordinators in the league. A year ago, there was some mistrust between Flacco and Smith, a natural reaction because both are so young and competitive. But that has faded and turned into mutual respect.

Smith seems to know his time will come, and for now, he and the Ravens will make the best of the situation.

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