Maybe it's a little early to talk about leadership with Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, but circumstance has pushed him to the top of the depth chart so quickly that he's going to have to accept a little more responsibility than your average 24-year-old.
He spent his first two seasons learning the finer points of the job from receivers coach Jim Hostler and veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. Now, with Boldin gone and the team trying to piece together an effective receiver corps in the wake of injuries to tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, the Ravens need Smith to take another giant devepmental leap this season.
That's no great secret and the concept certainly is not lost on Smith, who has been a quick study since the Ravens drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft, but he said that he isn't doing anything differently in training camp this summer than he has done in the past.
"No, I approach it the same," he said Tuesday. "We're all the same age, so I try to go out there and lead by example and just try and lead our guys in the right direction. It's a challenge that I take pride in, but at the same time, I'm not going out there and doing anything different than I usually do."
Well, most of the top receiver and tight end candidates were about the same age until Sunday, when the Ravens signed 37-year-old veteran Brandon Stokley and agreed to terms with 34-year-old tight end Dallas Clark. Both are accomplished guys who have been in the league for a long time and have played under offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, which creates a curious situation in which the veterans will have to learn from the younger guys until they're in a better position to share the experience and wisdom that comes with a combined 24 years in the NFL.
When that time comes, Smith will be all eyes and ears.
"You can learn from everyone," he said. "You learn something new from everybody and I'm looking forward to being around those veterans. Whether it's Stokely, Dallas, (Visanthe) Shiancoe, all those guys, they've all obviously had successful careers, so you're looking forward to picking their brains."
It's got to be a little strange. The Ravens seemed intent on getting much younger at the offensive skill positions, to the point where they were willing to deal away Boldin after his terrific contribution to their Super Bowl run. That figured to impact Joe Flacco's ability to attack the middle of the field, but Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh were confident that they could do that with Pitta and Dickson.
Things changed dramatically when Pitta went down with a likely season-ending hip injury and Dickson was sidelined with a torn hamstring. The three veterans have been brought in to add depth and experience, but their ability to contribute to the offense remains to be seen. Smith has established himself as a premier deep threat and does not have to bow to anyone, but that's not quite the way he views himself.
"I'm still growing," he said.
Harbaugh agrees. He said Tuesday that one of Smith's great strengths is that he's a sponge when it comes to absorbing information and a careful observer of what works and doesn't work on a football field.
"Oh, yeah, Torrey is the kind of guy who wants to learn every single day," Harbaugh said. "With Brandon here and Dallas, I'm sure he'll be listening to everything they say and watching everything they do. That's kind of Torrey's mentality. Torrey, more than anything, gets a lot from Jim Hostler. Torrey listens to everything he's coached to do and Jim does a great job with him."
Who knows what the Ravens depth chart will look like after three more preseason games and three more weeks of training camp. It remains to be seen just where Stokley fits into the offensive scheme and how much Clark and Shiancoe have left. There was already plenty of intrigue involving the younger receivers competing for Flacco's attention and Harbaugh's approval.
Smith doesn't have to worry about any of that after a sophomore season that was highlighted by his two-TD performance in that uplifting playoff victory over the Broncos in Denver. He just needs to keep doing what he's doing, which will be leadership enough.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.