Torrey Smith growing in stature with each big catch

Ravens wide receiver is determined to be best in the game

January 16, 2013|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

The knock on Ralph Friedgen's office door interrupted a major session of second guessing.

As the University of Maryland's coach replayed the 21-14 loss to Oregon State in the 2007 Emerald Bowl in his mind, he contemplated the difference another fast and physical receiver to pair with Darrius Heyward-Bey would have made. That's when Torrey Smith, who fit the profile but was redshirted that season in a decision Friedgen still questions, was a surprise visitor to his office.

"He walks in and says, 'You know coach, I let you down. I have to be a better leader than I was this year and I'll be a better leader from here on out,' " recalled Friedgen. "He was just a true freshman."

Friedgen, who last coached the Terrapins in 2010, is extremely close with Smith and his family, texting the wide receiver after every Ravens' game. He knows how the wide receiver had been the male influence in his household from a young age. He watched him develop into a pro prospect at wide receiver in three seasons at Maryland despite being almost exclusively a quarterback in high school.

So he's not the least bit surprised that Smith, who was labeled as raw and one-dimensional coming out of college, has emerged as one of the most dangerous deep threats the Ravens have ever had.

"Champ Bailey is supposed to be one of the best cornerbacks in the league, right?" Friedgen asked of the Denver Broncos' 12-time Pro Bowler who was beaten by Smith for two touchdowns in the Ravens' 38-35 victory last week. "I'm seeing him growing in confidence every game. The more success he has, it's not going to go to his head, I'll tell you that. It's just going to make him more determined to be better."

As the Ravens get ready for an AFC championship game rematch with the New England Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the second-year wide receiver suddenly finds himself as a marked man. Few players have beaten Bailey, a potential Hall of Famer, as easily as Smith did en route to catching three balls for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Smith also got behind Bailey two other times for potential scores but failed to connect with quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Patriots, who liked Smith coming out of college, have seen it before. In last year's AFC championship game, Smith caught three balls for 82 yards and a touchdown. In the Sept. 23 meeting between the two teams this season, a game won 31-30 by the Ravens, Smith had six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns while playing the day after his younger brother, Tevin, was killed in a motorcycle accident.

"He's always been able to run and the guy that makes all the plays down the field," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "He can also run after the catch on the shorter and intermediate routes. If you give him a big cushion, that's a problem, too. He's made a lot of big plays down the field on deep balls and that's opened up things for him underneath as well. He's made a jump to being a very productive NFL receiver and that was maybe less consistent in college. But again, a lot of that has to do — like any receiver's production — with the quarterback he's playing with."

In two seasons, Smith has 99 catches for 1,696 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has three more touchdowns in four career postseason games. Smith ranked fourth in the NFL this season with a 17.4 yards-per-catch average and his 17.1 career average is the most for a Ravens' wide receiver.

"I definitely believe in my talent, regardless of what other people say," said Smith, a second-round pick in 2011. "I know I can do it, and I'm confident in what I do. Just continue to work and trust in the folks around here has helped me a lot. I always approach wide receiver as if it's new for me. I've only been playing this since college. I just try to go out there and prepare every day."

Flacco's trust in Smith has grown steadily and it was on display last Saturday when the quarterback consistently showed a willingness to challenge Bailey. Asked why the Ravens targeted Bailey so frequently, Flacco said succinctly, "We have a good receiver out there."

On the first touchdown, which was a 59-yarder, Smith simply ran right past Bailey. On the second one, Smith adjusted his body and then elevated over the cornerback to catch the ball at its highest point for a 32-yard touchdown. Watching at home, Friedgen was impressed by the play, but he had seen such displays of athleticism before. It was actually Smith's third catch — a 7-yarder on a slant route to get a first down in the third quarter — that resonated with the former Terps' head coach.

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