January 28, 2013 in Sports

Ravens’ Smith still growing

Second-year receiver beating adversity, cornerbacks
David Ginsburg Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Torrey Smith makes one of his two TD catches against Champ Bailey in a playoff win over the Broncos.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. – On game day, Torrey Smith is a whirlwind of dreadlocks, speed and big-play catches.

None of this provides a hint of the hurdles he had to overcome to become the deep threat the Baltimore Ravens needed to make it to the Super Bowl.

After helping his single mother raise six other children, a chore that included working after school as a teenager, Smith accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland. He played three seasons, scoring 22 touchdowns – including three on kickoff returns – before throwing his name into the mix for the 2011 NFL draft.

Smith was selected in the second round by Baltimore, and as a rookie he quickly displayed the ability to get downfield, although his inexperience resulted in several costly dropped passes.

Early this season, Smith ran sharper patterns and rarely let a ball slip through his fingers. But tragedy struck less than 24 hours before the Ravens faced New England on Sept. 23: Smith’s younger brother Tevin Jones was killed in a motorcycle accident in Virginia.

Smith left the team to join his family, then returned to catch six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns to help Baltimore earn a 31-30 victory.

“Incredible,” teammate Jacoby Jones said last week. “I’m not sure many people could perform under those circumstances, let alone play so well. I really do admire him for that.”

Smith finished the regular season with eight TD catches and ranked fourth in the NFL with 17.4 yards per reception. In the second round of the playoffs, he twice burned standout cornerback Champ Bailey for long scores in the Ravens’ 38-35 playoff win over top-seeded Denver. Smith then contributed four catches for 69 yards as Baltimore defeated New England 28-13 to advance to a Super Bowl showdown with San Francisco this Sunday.

“We talk about the cauldron of competition and the fire that refines us. To me, Torrey is the perfect example of how the right kind of person is made of the right kind of stuff,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s one of those rare players where there is no agenda. He just wants to know what’s expected of him, so he can do the best he possibly can.”

For Smith to be at his best this season, it was important that he moved on after his brother’s death.

“That’s life. That’s so long ago,” Smith said with a shrug Saturday as he packed his bags for a trip to New Orleans. “That happens to everyone. Someone has someone pass, and you’ve just got to move on. I’m just focused on playing football.”

When Smith opted to leave Maryland before his senior year, his coach at the time, Ralph Friedgen, wasn’t sure if it was the right decision. Friedgen no longer has any doubt that the 6-foot, 200-pound speedster has what it takes to be great.

“I see his hands improving and I see someone very confident in what he does,” said Friedgen, who was fired after the 2010 season. “Around the league, everyone knows that to beat the Ravens, you have to stop Torrey.”

Before Smith arrived, Harbaugh was desperate for a receiver that could get behind opposing safeties. Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, T.J. Houshmandzahdeh, and Donte Stallworth did so on occasion, but Smith has seemingly made it a habit.

“It’s definitely a process,” Smith said. “I don’t think I am surprised, because with hard work you expect to do well, and you expect to continue to get better. I never get complacent.”

Friedgen has no doubt.

“Once we got him at Maryland, he hadn’t played much at wide receiver,” the former coach said. “But I thought he had the physical tools to be very good football player, and I was right. There’s a learning curve in the NFL, because defensive backs can stay with you like a shadow. But Torrey has overcome that, and I don’t think he’s finished growing yet.”

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