FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - — Torrey Smith has heard it before. About three months after the wide receiver was drafted, the Ravens released three popular and productive offensive players, and Smith remembers the talk that the team was headed for some struggles.
"They had cut [Derrick] Mason, [Todd] Heap and Willis McGahee [and] everybody was panicking and saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to be terrible,’” Smith said Saturday before hosting his charity basketball game at Stafford High School, his alma mater. “We were a couple of plays away from the Super Bowl. You just have to trust the guy."
‘The guy’ is Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome, who has built two Super Bowl championship teams. However, it hasn’t been an easy ride for Newsome and the Ravens since they beat the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, to capture Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.
The Ravens have already lost eight key players from that team, including six on the defense. That group, of course, is headed by linebacker Ray Lewis, who retired following his 17th season, and safety Ed Reed, who signed with the Houston Texans on Friday.
"I think the hardest thing for the fans is just the connection between the guys that we lost,” Smith said. “We lost Ray, and also Ed, who were icons and Anquan [Boldin] played a great role over the past few years, and Bernard Pollard plays like a Raven. It takes a lot out of the fans, but it’s just the business side of it, and they get to experience it first-hand. We’ll be fine.”
Fullback Vonta Leach, one of several of Smith’s teammates at Saturday’s event, feels that reports of the Ravens’ demise are premature.
"Games still have to be played,” Leach said. “They’re going to put the schedule out, and I’ll make sure we’re going to be ready.”
Leach was cut by the Houston Texans two offseasons ago despite being considered one of the best fullbacks in the NFL, so by now, nothing in the league surprises him, not even a mass exodus from a Super Bowl-winning team.
"Guys know what kind of business this is,” Leach said. “Nobody’s job is ever secure. You know people are moving around. ... When you win a Super Bowl, when you got a lot of good players on your team, they get a chance to get paid. Everybody sees that talent. Other teams want somebody who has been to a Super Bowl, who has won a Super Bowl. Players that were free agents got the most of it.”
The Ravens have numerous holes. They could use a slot receiver to take Boldin’s spot. They are looking for a left tackle, a pass rusher and at least one inside linebacker and a safety.
But Smith, who has gotten to the AFC championship game in both of his seasons, isn’t sweating it.
"You just have to trust and believe in [Newsome],” he said. “He can cut me today and I’d still be a firm believer in him. He has a track record and there’s nothing you can take from that. He’s won two rings, he’s the mastermind behind that. When a guy has that type of reputation, you just have to trust it.”
NOTE: Smith’s third annual celebrity all-star game pitted a team made up mostly of Ravens against a team featuring several past and present Washington Redskins. The Ravens’ team won the game, 98-79, and Smith anointed backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor as the game’s Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. The other Ravens who played were quarterback Joe Flacco, running backs Ray Rice and Damien Berry, wide receivers LaQuan Williams and Tori Gurley, linebacker D.J. Bryant and defensive tackle Bryan Hall. Boldin, who was traded to the 49ers’ earlier this month, was also on the Ravens’ team. The event, which benefits the Torrey Smith Foundation, sold out in a couple of days. Smith said the response has been so great that he is considering moving the event to a bigger venue next year.