Snatching the football out of the sky, the Baltimore Ravens’ backup quarterback made a convincing turn during a cameo appearance at wide receiver in a passing camp Tuesday. And the athletic former Heisman Trophy winner celebrated by popping his jersey with both hands as he playfully taunted safety Haruki Nakamura, his former high school teammate.
For a coaching staff that utilized Smith last year in a multi-dimensional Wildcat role, the Ravens are contemplating how to use Smith’s versatility to full advantage.
"Without making it a huge story, I’m quite sure that Troy will be lined up in different places this year," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He can split out and play receiver. He can play running back. We definitely want to expand guys and do as much as we can."
As natural as Smith looked lining up outside by registering a series of acrobatic catches even though he lacks blazing speed, it’s quite apparent that he’s a reluctant receiver.
While he had fun at practice and said he’s willing to help the team in any way, Smith considers himself to be a pure quarterback. Reprising former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart’s patented "Slash" role isn’t what Smith has in mind.
The undersized passer was quick to remind people why he’s in the NFL.
"I’m not opposed to it," Smith said of playing wide receiver. "I didn’t get here catching balls, you know what I mean. I play quarterback. That’s what I do.
"I guess sometimes when you’re blessed to a certain extent to do different things, the power of the pen takes over, you know what I mean. So, I didn’t get here catching balls. I’ve expanded my role as a quarterback, I know that first and foremost."
The reality for Smith, though, is with Flacco entrenched as the starting quarterback his best opportunity for expanded playing time is likely to come by being willing and able to pitch in wherever the team needs him.
So, playing receiver could represent a major chance for Smith to showcase his ability.
"I don’t know if Troy likes to do that or not, but he’s obviously a pretty good athlete and capable of doing that," Flacco said.
Because of an assortment of injuries and absences for receivers Derrick Mason, Demetrius Williams, Mark Clayton and Yamon Figurs, there was a big need for someone to challenge the defense during the passing camp. And Smith definitely provided a worthy foil with the way he fit into zones and caught the football.
"When those guys aren’t here, you’ve got to fill the void," Smith said. "That’s what I did.”
Have the Ravens approached Smith about turning a temporary shift into a recurring role?
"We haven’t talked to him about that," Harbaugh said. "Troy Smith is a quarterback. He has proven that time and time again in college and through the end of the season two years ago and through the preseason before he got sick last year. He’s only gotten better. He’s become, I think an NFL-caliber, starting-caliber thrower right now.
"We think he’s become that, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to limit him. The more you can do, the more you can help us win and the better chance we have to be successful. Plus, he gave our players a pretty good look out there. He can play. Troy’s a football player, but Troy’s certainly a quarterback."
In two NFL seasons, Smith has completed 53.8 percent of his passes for 534 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The biggest knocks on him are his lack of height at 6-foot, 215 pounds and inconsistent accuracy.Entering the final year of a three-year, $1.22 million rookie contract that included a $105,000 signing bonus, Smith is scheduled to become a restricted free agent after this season.
Although Smith ranks ahead of former Miami Dolphins second-round pick John Beck on the depth chart, the Ravens will have some decisions about whether he’ll remain in Baltimore after this season. Beck is on a one-year deal.
Smith deftly avoided talking about the prospects of playing in another NFL city.
"The thing about it is being a part of this organization has made me who I am so far," Smith said. "We don’t think about things like that. This team is what’s most important right now and that’s the way it’s handled.
"Coming from where I come from in Ohio, Columbus and Cleveland, it’s about taking care of business with the task at hand. Everything in front of you is the most important thing. All of those things on the side will take care of itself. What’s most important now is the Baltimore Ravens.