Neuheisel: He’s Got a Fastball

Street Talk Neuheisel: He’s Got a Fastball

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OWINGS MILLS — Troy Smith swiveled his helmet and turned his shoulders before launching a hard spiral toward the sidelines. The Baltimore Ravens’ rookie quarterback didn’t hit the target, though, skidding the football along the ground behind wide receiver Yamon Figurs.
That wasn’t an uncommon sequence for the Heisman Trophy winner Friday morning, enduring a humbling and informative first practice with a smile as the Ravens began a two-day rookie minicamp.
“I’m at the bottom of the totem pole right now,” Smith said. “I have that understanding.”
After claiming college football’s grandest individual prize at Ohio State, delivering 54 touchdown passes and leading the Buckeyes to the national title game, Smith’s status has dipped dramatically.
As the final player selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft, Smith is starting over in an unfamiliar position: at the bottom of the depth chart.
After receiving some counsel from offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel, Smith appeared to calm down by the afternoon practice. He improved his accuracy and timing, hitting several receivers in stride.
Of course, there were no maniacal blitzing linebackers impeding Smith’s path during this laidback, non-contact environment.
“We’ve got to try to have him be able to do a few more things with the ball,” Neuheisel said. “He’s got a fastball. Now, we have to work on some other pitches.”
Because of questions about Smith’s height — he’s a sturdy 6-foot, 225 pounds — a  few character issues, a meltdown against the Florida Gators in the BCS title game and a shaky audition at the NFL scouting combine, Smith’s draft stock plummeted.
He was the ninth quarterback drafted, following LSU’s JaMarcus Russell, Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn, Houston’s Kevin Kolb, Brigham Young’s John Beck, Michigan State’s Drew Stanton, Stanford’s Trent Edwards, Washington’s Isaiah Stanback and Nevada’s Jeff Rowe.
Despite two Big Ten titles, 5,720 passing yards and a 25-3 record as a starter, Smith has a lot to prove.
“I think what stands out the most to everybody in the United States is he’s the Heisman Trophy winner,” Neuheisel said. “I think internally he just wants to learn. He’s not coming in here as though he’s proven something. He’s coming in here wanting to prove something.
“I was very pleased. He’s obviously a gifted athlete. He’s eager, he’s willing and that’s all you can ask of a guy. I’m excited to have the chance to work with him.”
Although Smith didn’t achieve immediate success during his first NFL practice, that’s the typical experience for rookie passers. Plus, even veteran starter Steve McNair was erratic during his first minicamp workout after being traded to Baltimore last year.
"I think it went pretty good," Smith said. "I’m just excited about being here. A new offense is always going to bring up some challenges, and that’s what they did. They challenged us."
Added Ravens coach Brian Billick: “You can see the athleticism. Right now, there’s a huge thinking process. With a quarterback you’ve got to get used to what he does and hold him to that standard.”
Smith is determined to avoid becoming the next Heisman-winning quarterback to fail in this league, never wanting to be linked to the rather forgettable careers of Gino Torretta, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Weinke and Andre Ware.
“It doesn’t put any pressure on me, and it won’t put any pressure on me,” Smith said. “That happened for a reason. We had a good college season, but it’s not about that anymore.
"It’s about the Baltimore Ravens and what I can do to help this organization. The Heisman Trophy has nothing to do with it.”
Billick has witnessed firsthand the travails of a Heisman winner as an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings when they drafted Torretta in 1996 after he won Heisman at the University of Miami. Billick didn’t offer a theory on why so many Heisman-winning quarterbacks can’t duplicate their collegiate success in pro football.
"I’ll leave it to someone smarter than I am to figure out why that has happened that way," he said. "But you’ve got to be very careful not to prejudge it, because that just means what has been, it doesn’t mean that is what will be."
One issue Smith doesn’t seem to have to conquer is arrogance. He praised McNair, whom he’s known for three years after working for him at his summer football camp, backup Kyle Boller and incumbent third-stringer Drew Olson, who’s playing in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals.
When asked to describe his approach, Smith replied: “A humble one.”
One watershed change for Smith was wearing No. 11 because his well-known No. 10 college number already belongs to Olson.
“A number is a number, it will be represented well,” Smith said. “But if I get a chance to get into that No. 10, I’m going to do that.”
With 173 players drafted before him last weekend, it’s unlikely that Smith is going to be content thinking about his glory days with the Buckeyes. His immediate goal is to earn a spot as the third-string quarterback. Being cut from the roster isn’t a scenario he’s even entertained.
“That’s probably the last thing I’m thinking about,” Smith said. “Not making the team is something that never crossed my mind. I’m here for a reason.”
NOTE: Ravens tight end Daniel Wilcox is hosting a miniature golf tournament at 1 p.m. today at Mitchell’s Golf Complex in Reisterstown. Several Ravens are scheduled to attend.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens at the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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