By Matt Vensel
3:55 PM EDT, September 18, 2013
Torrey Smith insists that the Ravens are not using him any differently, that he is running the same routes down the field and facing the same kinds of coverages that secondaries used to account for him a season ago.
The speedy third-year wide receiver says the reason he has been targeted so much, particularly on shorter routes underneath the defensive backs who respectfully cower toward their end zone, is because he is now usually one of Joe Flacco’s first reads. With Anquan Boldin gone, Dennis Pitta on crutches and Jacoby Jones in a knee brace, Smith is unquestionably the No. 1 receiver and Flacco’s best option on most plays.
“It’s not like Coach Caldwell is like, ‘Hey, we’re going to put Torrey in this spot and run a different route,’” Smith said Wednesday. “It’s the same routes I’ve been running. I’ve been saying the same thing, but y’all don’t just don’t get it yet. I run the same routes. It’s the progression. The ball’s came to me quicker, underneath stuff.”
Two games is a small sample size, but Flacco has been looking for Smith early and often this season. Smith has been targeted 21 times, according to Pro Football Focus, putting him on a pace to be targeted 58 more times than he was a season ago. Only seven more players have been targeted more often than Smith, who has eight more than the next guy on the team.
Nine of those 21 targets have come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, a rate of 42.9 percent. He has six catches for 62 yards on those targets. Last season, Smith was targeted 46 times within 10 yards of the line, a rate of 35.9 percent.
Smith was most effective in his first two NFL seasons running vertical routes deep down the field. Last season, five of his eight touchdowns during the regular season were caught at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He averaged 17.4 yards per catch, which ranked fourth in the NFL.
This season, he has just two catches on eight deep attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. It could have been three, but Smith bobbled a would-be touchdown reception against the Cleveland Browns before making the catch out of bounds.
“I should have had a touchdown last week -- that’s my fault -- on a deep ball,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s on me to when the ball is thrown, make the play, whether it’s short or long.”
But with Jim Caldwell calling the plays and Flacco throwing the footballs, “Go Deep Torrey” will remain a staple of the offense.
With 11 catches for 177 yards so far, Smith has produced like No. 1 receiver on the field. And off the field, the Ravens say that the young leader is carrying himself as such, too. Coach John Harbaugh raved about Smith’s leadership on Wednesday, saying that he leads by example. Rookie wide-out Marlon Brown echoed those comments later in the day.
“If you’re having a tough day of practice, everyone is hurting and tired, usually I just look over at Torrey and I just see how he responds,” Brown said. “He responds with a good attitude, so I’m going to get out there and respond with a good attitude. If something is going wrong or if I need help with something, I go to Torrey before I go to anybody. He’s our leader.”
Smith still has plenty of work left to do this season, but when it comes to quieting the critics who say he is just a one-trick pony, Smith has started the season off on the right foot. As for the big plays deep down the field, the ones Smith has often made look so easy in his young career, he is bound to bust one open any game now, if you ask his head coach.
“Torrey is a big play waiting to happen,” Harbaugh said, adding, “He’s going to have a great year, no doubt about it.”
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