OWINGS MILLS – The football would routinely glance off the hands of Torrey Smith, and he would look down as if they had betrayed him.
Back in August in training camp and occasionally during the regular season, the Baltimore Ravens’ rookie wide receiver was battling with his confidence and his catching technique.
He would take his eyes off the path of the ball instead of looking it into his hands the way he had been taught, a fundamental gaffe that threatened to become a troubling trend at one point.
Eventually, Smith figured it out and emerged as the Ravens’ deep threat.
And the former University of Maryland star finished the season by hauling in 50 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns, setting franchise rookie records for catches, receiving yards and touchdowns.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Smith said. “Everything has slowed down. I’m not really a rookie anymore. I made a lot of rookie mistakes and I was able to learn from them. I’m still trying to continue to get better and be the best that I can for us.”
Smith caught three touchdowns in his first NFL start against the St. Louis Rams, finishing with five receptions for 152 yards as he averaged 30.4 yards per reception.
And it was Smith who caught the game-winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a November game at Heinz Field after dropping previous chances to put the game away.
He’s not entirely satisfied, though, with his first season in the NFL.
“I did all right,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of plays I left on the field. I could have easily had well over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns if I had executed on a few plays. It’s something when I look back on I’ll see how to get better. I know what I can do and it sets the bar that much higher.”
Only two rookie wide receivers ranked ahead of Smith for yards and catches.
Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns, and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones finished with 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns.
Smith averaged 16.8 yards per reception with five of his seven touchdowns going for at least 75 yards with scores from 75, 41, 38, 36, 28, 18 and eight yards. He averaged 34.4 yards per touchdown catch.
And Smith became the third rookie, joining Ken Burrow and Randy Moss, to have two games with 150-plus receiving yards and at least one touchdown in the same season since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Smith also caught six passes for 165 yards and a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this season.
All season, Smith gained separation.
By the end of the year, he was routinely catching intermediate and short routes by improving his concentration and hand placement.
“Just fundamentals, really,” Smith said. “I’ve been able to catch the football since I was yay-high. It’s about being consistent with my technique and route placement and not turning your head away from the ball. It’s just a bunch of little things I’ve been able to focus on every day.”
During the first meeting with the Houston Texans, Sunday’s AFC divisional round opponent, Smith caught three passes for 84 yards despite the presence of Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
“Watching them the other day, we were able to get some separation,” Smith said. “It was a tough challenge. It wasn’t easy. We’re going to have our hands full. Johnathan Joseph is real good. He’s a Pro Bowler. I voted for him. He’s another great one.
“They look very comfortable up front and in the back end. It’s going to be a very tough challenge for us. They have a very good secondary with some athletic guys. We’re going to have to bring out A game.”
Having the bye week gave several injured players time to recuperate and rest up.
However, the time off wasn’t necessarily what Smith was looking for.
Smith is eager to get back to work and he says he won’t be nervous by the heightened stakes of the postseason.
“I’m ready to get back on the football field,” Smith said. “I’m just approaching it as another football game. I know there’s a lot on the line. I’m looking forward to it. I won’t get caught up in all the hype.”