OWINGS MILLS — The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is just an injury away from emerging as the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback.
Rookie quarterback Troy Smith is fully cognizant of how his status has changed with a shoulder injury to starter Steve McNair propelling backup Kyle Boller under center.
The former Ohio State star began preparations Wednesday to operate as Boller’s backup for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It’s definitely an eye-opening situation," said Smith, who fell to the final pick of the fifth round due to concerns about his lack of size at 6-foot, 225 pounds, a disastrous Fiesta Bowl and off-field issues. "With it being at home, that means something, getting the chance to play in front of the home crowd. When they call my number, I’ll be ready."
Smith struggled with his accuracy during the preseason, but displayed glimpses of arm strength, pocket awareness and athleticism.
The Ravens haven’t ruled out possibly using Smith in a versatile capacity to complement Boller.
"Troy offers some resources to us now as a second quarterback," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You could put him in for a play and take him out without any penalty in that regard. And he does some things that might be worth capitalizing on."
Smith certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, carrying himself with an attitude that belies his age and inexperience.
"I can’t tell you I will be good at this or that," he said. "Then, I will be selling myself short."
Smith threw a school-record 30 touchdowns with six interceptions as a senior, finishing with 2,542 yards. The Cleveland native finished his college career with 5,720 yards, 54 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Now, he’s one hit away from playing in his first NFL regular-season game.
"But you don’t want to get it like that," Smith said. "There are definitely players out there who have made their breaks off a guy with some misfortune. Backing up Boller, who’s an extremely talented and gifted guy, I’m just trying to fill in.
"First, you got to earn the trust and love of your teammates and let those guys know at the drop of the dime that you’re ready to be there for the rest of the 52 guys."
INJURY UPDATES: Although still limited, Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister (strained knee) increased his activity in practice and has serious designs on returning to the lineup Sunday after missing the past three games.
"I was able to actually practice all of practice, so that gives me confidence for this week," McAlister said. "Being able to do the majority of the things I did with very little pain gives me a lot of confidence. As long as we don’t have any setbacks, things are looking good."
McAlister insisted that he isn’t rushing back because the Ravens are already missing cornerback Samari Rolle, who was ruled out again due to an undisclosed illness.
"Rushing back would only set me back for the rest of the season,â€ McAlister said. â€œIt’s just a matter of making sure I’m ready to do my job without putting myself or my teammates at risk.
"Reacting has been the issue. Will it hold up? As the week goes on, I’ll definitely know if Sunday’s going to be a go."
If McAlister is back, it could give the Ravens’ injury-riddled secondary a major boost as they try to match up with former Baltimore quarterback Derek Anderson, wide receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow.
"You’re talking about one of the top corners in the league," Billick said. "It’s huge, huge. With all due respect to those young guys who I loved watching compete out there, having Chris back is a good thing."
Baltimore ruled out wide receiver Demetrius Williams (high-ankle sprain) and quarterback Steve McNair (shoulder).
Tight end Todd Heap (strained hamstring) didn’t practice along with safety Gerome Sapp (hamstring) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained toe).
"It’s obviously hampered," said Heap when asked whether he will play Sunday.
Return specialist Yamon Figurs (knee sprain) and linebacker Gary Stills (knee drained) were limited.
Fullback Le’Ron McClain (shoulder) participated fully.
Browns linebackers D’Qwell Jackson (ankle), Willie McGinest (hamstring) and Antwan Peek (knee) didn’t practice, and cornerback Leigh Bodden (back) was limited.
BOO-BIRDS: Running back Willis McGahee didn’t take issue with the boos raining down during a 21-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, sympathizing with the fans’ reaction to a third consecutive loss.
It was almost like McGahee’s unpopular return to Buffalo.
"That’s tough," he said. "I understand their pain. We haven’t been producing.
â€œI was like, man, this is crazy. We’ve got to do better than weâ€™re doing right now. They pay to see us play, and they want a good show and we’re not doing it."
The Ravens committed six turnovers in the loss.
"I would have booed us, too," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "You can’t disappoint your fans because at the end of the day that’s all you have."
UNDERDOGS: In a rare occurrence at home, the Ravens were installed as three-point underdogs on most betting lines.
"Considering how we’ve played and how they’ve played, they deserve to be favored," Suggs said.
QUICK HITS: The Ravens placed rookie linebacker Prescott Burgess (quadriceps) on injured reserve, ending the sixth-round draft pickâ€™s season. … The team signed linebacker Edgar Jones (Southeast Missouri) and rookie wide receiver Matt Willis (UCLA) to the active roster, and cornerback Willie Gaston (Houston) and kicker Rhys Lloyd (Minnesota) were signed to the practice squad. The Ravens also added former Washington Redskins linebacker Robert McCune (Louisville) to the practice squad. … Suggs issued a diplomatic response when asked about the inequity between the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense and the league’s No. 23 offense.
"I canâ€™t answer that one, you have to be careful about how you speak,â€ he said. â€œYou’re going to have to come back to me at a later date, so I can think of the right words for you. Next.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Photo by Sabina Moran