In signing wide receiver Steve Smith, Ravens make a statement that's loud and clear

March 14, 2014|Mike Preston

While free-agent wide receiver Steve Smith was in town visiting the Ravens, they rolled out the red carpet. He had a nice dinner, an evening on the town, and private meetings with general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Apparently, Smith was impressed, as he signed with the Ravens and canceled visits or negotiations with the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers.

The Ravens are in Phase III of trying to rebuild a serious playoff contender, and Smith, despite being 34, has filled a major need. The Ravens have done well in retaining their top free agents from last year's 8-8 team, and Smith should take them to the next level.

He is the missing possession receiver, the void the Ravens had last season after they traded receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers.

But before everyone gets too excited about Smith joining speedsters like Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and tight end Dennis Pitta, let's remember that the Ravens still haven't done a thing about fixing up the interior of their offensive line.

Steve Smith brings something receiving candidate Julian Edelman can't, and that's a tough demeanor. Smith is a mean, nasty guy, just like Boldin and former Ravens receiver Derrick Mason. He is an alpha male.

Harbaugh got rid of all of them after he won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, but he should be smart enough to realize now that every team needs a couple, even if they might be knuckleheads. The Ravens have leaders on offense, but none are demonstrative.

Quarterback Joe Flacco is quiet and Torrey Smith is corporate. Pitta has no voice.

Steve Smith is ornery. He whines, pouts and complains when he doesn't get the ball. What top receiver doesn't? But he plays with an intensity that is contagious, and doesn't mind getting in the face of teammates who aren't playing well.

Did you hear his parting words for the Carolina Panthers' front office after the two sides had a falling-out after 13 seasons?

"Put your goggles on because there is going to be blood and guts everywhere," Smith said Thursday of playing against his former team in a radio interview with WFNZ in North Carolina.

Ooh, you've got to love that kind of stuff. That's what football is all about. It's about brutality, intimidation and trash-talking. There hasn't been that kind of sizzle and smack in Baltimore since the days of Bart Scott, Rob Burnett and Sam Adams as the Ravens prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers with Joey Porter and Hines Ward.

Smith brings that kind of passion and energy back to the Ravens. He is only 5 feet 9, but a thick 185 pounds. He can't be stopped at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, or intimidated.

With Torrey Smith and Jones working the vertical game, Pitta and Steve Smith can work the short and intermediate areas of the field. Steve Smith gives the Ravens another weapon inside the red zone, where only Pitta was much of a factor late in the season after coming back from injuries.

Smith didn't produce the numbers last season (64 catches for 745 yards) he is accustomed to in a career that has included five Pro Bowls, but the Ravens don't need him to be the top guy.

Boldin had only 65 catches for 921 yards and four touchdowns during the 2012 regular season, but had 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the Ravens' postseason run to the championship.

Newsome has been in this situation before, and knew a veteran player of Smith's caliber didn't fly into town to be insulted. He also knew Smith couldn't be allowed to leave town without agreeing to a contract, not with Patriots coach Bill Belichick scheduled for the next visit.

With Smith done, the Ravens still can select a good receiver or top tight end in the first round, and a rookie possibly could have a year or two to work with Smith. The positives outweighed the negatives. A mediocre team a year ago already has gotten better.

They put an alpha male back into the fold.

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