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Buckeye toward future

Ravens, though publicly guarded, select Ohio State QB Troy Smith in fifth round

By Jamison Hensley

Sun reporter

April 30, 2007

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Moments before guard Ben Grubbs walked into his introductory news conference yesterday, the first-round pick's entrance was trumped by the Ravens' boldest move of the draft.

The Ravens announced that they had selected Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, the runaway Heisman Trophy winner, with the last pick of the fifth round."Can you believe this guy lasted to the bottom of the fifth round?" a high-ranking Ravens official said shortly after the pick. "If he was two inches taller, he would have been a first-round pick."

That's the ongoing debate with Smith: Is he a legitimate quarterback of the future or is he over in his head in the NFL? Even those within the Ravens organization can't predict whether he'll ever become a starter.

Smith is a dual-threat quarterback prospect who has the ability to burn defenses with his arm and his feet. He is a natural leader, guiding Ohio State to two Big Ten championships and an 11-2 record against ranked opponents.

But his height (he's only 6 feet), character issues and a nightmare performance in the Bowl Championship Series title game caused Smith to plummet in the draft.

"Whether he develops into a starter, I think that's up to Troy," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He will be given those opportunities. I think one of the things that Troy impressed upon me was he went to Ohio State in a similar situation where nobody gave him a chance. He earned his way onto the field."

Smith completed 62.7 percent of his passes, throwing for 54 touchdowns (third best in Buckeyes history) and running for 14. He was intercepted 13 times in 670 attempts.

He finished his decorated career as a first-team All-American, winning the Walter Camp Award (Player of the Year), the Davey O'Brien Award (top quarterback) and the Big Ten's Player of the Year award.

Smith also won the Heisman in the second-most-lopsided vote in the history of the award.

But he was the ninth quarterback taken in the draft, lasting to the 174th overall pick.

"The wait, that's not a concern for me," Smith said. "The concern was the chance to be a part of an organization, which is the ideal fit. This is the ideal fit."

If Smith shows promise, he could be the eventual successor to Steve McNair.

Smith likely will be the No. 3 quarterback this season and could become the backup in 2008 if Kyle Boller is not re-signed. Because the Ravens expect McNair to be the starter for at least two more seasons, they wouldn't be looking for a new starting quarterback until 2009.

"[Smith's] got everything it takes to be successful as a quarterback," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's proven it on the collegiate level and now is very, very motivated to prove it in the NFL."

The biggest knock on Smith is his height. He was the only quarterback drafted in the first five rounds who was under 6-2.

There is a concern that he gets too many balls batted down at the line of scrimmage and he lacks adequate field vision. Some believe he needs to have the tailored offense that allows him to bootleg.

"Sure, height's a factor," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "But I think there's been some very good quarterbacks in our league to overcome a lack of height very effectively. And I think Troy can do that."

Another issue was Smith's character.

In 2003, he was found guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct after a fight with five women in a campus parking lot in which a car window was kicked in and a woman reported a broken jaw.

Then, after the 2004 regular season, he was suspended two games for accepting $500 from a booster to pay for a cell phone his mother obtained for former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett.

Newsome said yesterday that he had no concerns about Smith's character, especially after he received an unsolicited phone call from Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on Tuesday. Tressel endorsed Smith as a person and a leader.

"I feel like this would be a very good place for him," Tressel told Newsome.

The Ravens, who have failed to develop a quality starting quarterback through the draft, know they will be getting a motivated prospect.

In his last game -- the BCS championship against Florida -- Smith was just 4-for-14 for 35 yards and was sacked five times in Ohio State's 41-14 loss. It was a performance that ignited more skepticism about Smith's ability to play in the NFL.

"The critics are going to be here for the rest of my life. There's nothing I can do about them," Smith said. "In a lot of ways, they make people stronger or they take people under. My whole life I've been fighting that battle. It turned out positive right now, and I'm going to continue to stay the course and fight the critics. They're not going anywhere, and I accept them for who they are."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com