OWINGS MILLS – One year removed from tearing an anterior cruciate ligament, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marcus Smith is beginning to trust his surgically repaired right knee again.
“It’s coming,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t say it’s there yet. I still have some pain here and there doing certain cuts. I would say my speed is almost back, maybe not as lateral as I want to be or as explosive as I was. I definitely feel like in the next few months or so everything will come back to normal.”
For Smith, it’s been a long road back from last summer when he blew out his knee against the Washington Redskins and was sidelined for the entire season.
Now, Smith is in a battle for the fifth wide receiver job.
A former fourth-round draft pick from New Mexico, Smith is competing with Demetrius Williams and rookie David Reed for a roster spot.
Smith’s niche is on special teams where he excelled before the injury. He’s tied with Antwan Barnes for the team lead in special-teams tackles this preseason with two stops.
“I may not be playing as much as I want to as an offensive player, but, on special teams, I’m trying to get back the feel of it,” Smith said. “I’m basically trying to get back to that level where I was at before the injury. Fundamentally, I’ve gotten so much better. I’ve taught all of my muscles all over again.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has noticed a difference in Smith.
“He grew through his injury as much as any player I’ve ever seen,” Harbaugh said. “He’s become a real quality wide receiver. Plus, he brings a lot of special-teams value. Marcus is in a fight, but he’s done very well.”
Among the group of receivers vying for a job, Smith is far in front as the top special-teams performer.
He’s on all four major special-teams units: kickoff, punt, punt return and kickoff return.
“We’ve got receivers, that’s simple,” Smith said. “We’ve got three or four guys who don’t play nothing but receiver. In that regard, it’s going to come down to special teams. I know with the confidence I have on special teams that’s what it’s going to come down to as far as being on this team and staying on this team.
“I’m not worried about that. I know I can control that part of it. That’s all effort and attitude. I have no problem or question about where I’m going to be and I know how everything’s going to turn out.”
Smith’s best work on special teams comes as a gunner.
At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, he’s typically bigger and faster than most of the players assigned to block him.
“With the speed and all the things combined in one, I definitely feel that’s my key factor as a gunner,” Smith said. “I make the matchup a problem for anybody. I definitely feel like they can put me in places to succeed because of my abilities.”
JAMEEL McCLAIN DOWNPLAYS KNEE INJURY: Inside linebacker Jameel McClain didn’t practice Thursday due to swelling in his left knee, but emphasized that he will play Saturday night against the New York Giants at M&T Bank Stadium.
McClain had his left knee wrapped up and was moving gingerly on the practice field.
"It’s something small," McClain said. "We took a precaution on it and just relaxed for a day. Nothing major."
McClain said he expected to take part in a walkthrough practice today and then play Saturday.
He has started at inside linebacker, also known as the Jack position, next to middle linebacker Ray Lewis in both preseason games. If he’s sidelined, then Dannell Ellerbe or Tavares Gooden would get the call.
"I’m not the type to sit out of any game," McClain said. "I ain’t sat out of no games for my whole career. It’s going to have to be a major precaution for me to sit out. I don’t know exactly what it is. Just a little swollen, nothing major."
When asked if he’s starting, McClain replied: "Did they tell you? No? Then, I don’t know, either."
INJURY UPDATES: The following players didn’t practice: offensive tackles Oniel Cousins (concussion) and Jared Gaither (thoracic disc injury), nose guard Terrence Cody (swollen left knee), offensive guards David Hale (bruised tailbone) and Daniel Sanders (left shoulder), safety Marcus Paschal (right quadriceps) and wide receivers Eron Riley (lower back strain) and Demetrius Williams (sprained right ankle).
Cousins said he doesn’t expect to play this week.
“Saturday may be a little too soon, but I’ll be back next week for sure,” he said. “I feel much better, I feel better every day. My headaches are starting to go away. I’m able to do more now as far as working out.”
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron characterized Williams’ injury as a game-time decision.
It’s bad timing for him as he tries to make the team.
“I just think Demetrius had some misfortune, some bad luck,” he said. “Here’s a guy who’s playing well, playing really good and gets hurt. Maybe his luck is going to turn because we think he’s playing really well and is a good football player.”
Williams said he thinks he’ll able to play Saturday.
“It’s much better,” he said. “I wanted to practice this week, but they felt like I would make it worse.”
Riley predicted that he’ll return to practice today and expects to play Saturday.
Defensive tackle Brandon McKinney returned to practice after missing a day with swelling in his knee.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “Everything is going pretty good, got back out there, moving well.”
PRYCE ON HAYNESWORTH: Ravens veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce knows what it’s like to be in Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth’s shoes.
He played nine seasons for Redskins coach Mike Shanahan when Shanahan was running the Denver Broncos, and he had his share of encounters with the taskmaster coach.
As a rookie, Pryce was late for several meetings and missed a team flight to Buffalo due to a snowstorm.
“I’ve played for Mike, and I know what his doghouse is like,” Pryce said. “Trust me, it’s no fun.”
Pryce said that Shanahan emphasizes high attendance in the offseason conditioning program.
If a player chooses to boycott workouts, as Haynesworth did, then Shanahan will get his retribution during training camp.
“I was in Denver, but I didn’t always show up because I was tired,” Pryce said. “It’s not like I was on a beach somewhere. I was in Denver at my house.”
What does Pryce foresee happening in the ongoing clash of wills between Shanahan and Haynesworth?
“I see two people that make a lot of money and are very headstrong,” Pryce said. “They’ll figure it out eventually. That’s what I see. It’s none of my business. Unless you talk to a player, you have no idea what his motivation is so I can’t speak for the guy.
“The guy plays hard and he plays well and he plays fast, when he turns it on. He turns it on most of the time. You can’t knock the guy’s talent or what the guy can do.”