As the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback lofted the football behind two defensive backs to hit Harper in stride during a Wednesday passing camp, it was a prime example of the improvement the former Heisman Trophy winner has displayed this offseason in making a viable bid for the starting job.
With first-round draft pick Joe Flacco absent due to an NFL-NCAA rule and former starter Kyle Boller having a rough day with batted passes and inaccuracy, Smith took advantage of the opportunity as he operated the first-team offense for the majority of the snaps.
Where the Ravens are seeing growth in Smith’s development from his rookie year is in his leadership and knowledge of the offense. That’s why he’s being taken seriously as a contender for the top spot.
"He’s taken more of a leadership role, he has an abundance of confidence," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "But sitting down for a majority of the year, you start to question what’s going on and start to question whether you can play at a high level. The last three games that he played in, the more comfortable he felt. Then, the leadership started to show again. Basically, it spilled over into these minicamps.
"What I like about him is that he’s eager to learn. If I did something wrong, he’s not scared to come up to me and say, ‘Mase, you messed up and let’s get it done.’ That’s what you respect in a player. Not only is he going to go up to the guys that are second and third-stringers, he’s going to come to the first-stringers and say, ‘Let’s get this going.’ Thatâ€™s what you want in a guy that is going to be the focal point of your offense."
Smith doesn’t lack boldness, a quality that has served him well since his days as an afterthought recruit from Cleveland who fought his way to college footballâ€™s top individual prize.
"I think he did an admirable job last year, he’s just trying to take the next step forward," linebacker Bart Scott said. â€œI think this thing is wide open and he has a tremendous opportunity to start at quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens."
Standing nearly seven inches shorter than Flacco (6-6, 235 pounds), Smith seems to have dispelled concerns about his lack of stature.
Smith has drawn particularly high marks for his work ethic, fortifying a new coaching staff’s confidence as they try to decide who will start the season-opener Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Tight end Todd Heap has noticed some definite differences in Smith after the former fifth-round draft pick entered last season ranked third on the depth chart
During the final three games last season with Steve McNair and Boller sidelined with injuries, Smith flashed potential as he completed 40 of 76 passes for 452 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.