Ravens' Smith wants to be more than a gimmick

Flacco's backup wants to compete as a quarterback

December 23, 2009|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

Troy Smith refuses, at least publicly, to look at it this way.

But the reality of his situation is, the more he plays this season for the Ravens, the more likely it is that his quarterbacking skills will be typecast, in the future, as a gimmick.

Joe Flacco is the starter in Baltimore, and barring an injury, he'll almost certainly remain the starter - the man the franchise molds its offense around for years to come.

But Smith, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Ohio State who has served as Flacco's backup for two seasons, still yearns to compete, to get into the game and help his team win. He isn't interested in becoming the next Kordell Stewart or Tim Tebow, a signal-caller known more for his athletic ability than for his prowess at reading coverages and making plays with his arm, even if that's how he's already viewed in some circles.

"People are going to try and put you in a box, no matter who you are," Smith said. "I remember when they said Peyton Manning couldn't win the big one, and that Drew Brees was too short and couldn't do this or that. It happens to the best of us. You just have to be patient and hope your opportunity will come."

And Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has similar strong feelings about Smith.

"He's a quarterback first and an athlete second, not an athlete [who happens to be a] quarterback," Cameron said. "Over time, I really think he can be a very good quarterback in this league. He's smart, he's a leader, he's tough. He just needs to get more game experience."

But right now, there is no question Smith can help the Ravens in other ways, as he did Sunday against the Bears when he and Flacco were both on the field at the same time, with Smith lining up at quarterback and Flacco at receiver.

"Obviously certain times come up when I can get in there and help out," Smith said. "When your number is called, you have to be ready."

It's a formation Cameron used effectively last year - when it was dubbed the "Suggs Package" in jest by the Ravens coaching staff after Terrell Suggs caused a minor controversy by saying Smith should be starting instead of Flacco. But it had not debuted this season until Baltimore faced Chicago, when Smith carried the ball twice (for 9 yards) in the second quarter inside the red zone.

"Sometimes you play a team that's not quite as familiar with you, and we just felt like the timing was right, especially when we'd struggled a little bit in the scoring zone," Cameron said. "We just felt like this was the time to mix it up in there a little bit."

Smith also saw some playing time when the outcome of the game had been all but decided, completing 2 of 4 passes for 10 yards and throwing an interception in the end zone with 1:49 remaining. He wasn't thrilled about the interception, saying he should have made a "better decision," but he rolled his eyes a bit when asked if he felt playing quarterback again was as familiar as riding a bike.

"I ain't going to say it's like riding a bike, because I don't really do stuff like that," Smith said. "They put 'special' plays in for you, but I've been a quarterback since I was 7 years old. All that special stuff, I don't know anything about it. I know about throwing touchdowns and completing passes."

You can't help wondering "What if?" sometimes when assessing Smith's career to this point. During training camp last season, it seemed almost certain that he was going to begin the year as the Ravens starting quarterback, until he was hospitalized with a severe infection to his tonsils. That led to a blood clot in his neck and a lung infection, the combination of which caused him to lose 20 pounds. Flacco took over, and Smith never really got a chance to compete for the starting job when he returned.

There is also an unspoken understanding that every time Smith plays, he's potentially auditioning for other teams, ones who would allow him to compete for the job as a starter. He'll be a restricted free agent after this season.

Smith seems to have no interest in switching positions the way other college quarterbacks like Josh Cribbs, Hines Ward and Antwan Randle El did to earn permanent playing time in the NFL. And Cameron, who was Randle El's coach in college, doesn't believe Smith should.

"He could play a lot of different positions," Cameron said. "But he's a quarterback."

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