Touchdowns have eluded Smith this season, with only one in four games after a career-high eight last season.

He hasn't matched the red-zone production the Ravens enjoyed with Boldin and Pitta, who routinely muscled defensive backs out of the way. At 6 foot, 205 pounds, Smith is physical, but his forte is running past and jumping over cornerbacks and safeties, not shoving them aside.

"Torrey's done a great job as the No. 1 wide receiver," Ward said. "He really has a rapport with Joe Flacco, but I would like to see the touchdown numbers higher, because that's what made Boldin and Pitta so great. They made the tough catches down in tight areas in the red zone.

"Torrey has to replace what Boldin and Pitta brought to the table. His weakness is making the tough catches in traffic, especially down in the red zone, but he has improved in those areas this year."

Smith devoted part of his offseason to honing his craft at Pete Bommarito's legendary training facility in South Florida, where he spent time working out with six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson and current Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

"The biggest thing I was able to take from Chad is his work ethic," Smith said. "People talk about how funny he is, and perceive him as a showboat, but to see how hard he works to get better is something I admire."

The fifth wide receiver taken in the 2011 draft, Smith has 120 career catches for 2,131 yards and 16 touchdowns.

"He's made the kind of plays that make differences for you," Harbaugh said. "Everybody is unique. You use that term 'No. 1 guy' — I've never really talked in those terms. Call it what you want, but he's a big part of our team."

And a pivotal part of an offense in transition. The Ravens haven't been able to lean on their running game to open up play-action passes this season as often as they used to.

Instead, the Ravens have depended on Smith to provide big plays, with Flacco throwing to him a dozen times in Buffalo. Even as Flacco threw five interceptions, including an errant pass he short-armed to Smith in the end zone, Smith averaged 33.2 yards per catch.

"He does a great job in terms of leadership with the group," offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "He's not afraid to express his opinion, but he's also a guy who's elevated his game. He certainly hasn't even scratched the surface of where he's going to be."

What hasn't changed much is Smith's low-key nature. A self-described country boy from Virginia, Smith has maintained the same kind of personality since his college days.

"From the time I knew Torrey when he first got to Maryland, he's been the same guy: respectable, humble and hardworking," said Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll, Smith's former teammate in College Park. "To see the kind of player he's become, I'm proud of him. I've seen that growth since he was 18 years old to now almost becoming the face of the Ravens and that city of Baltimore. He's handled success very well."

Smith prefers to let his actions speak for themselves. With Boldin gone, though, Smith is aware that this is his time to step forward.

"It's not like I go out there and try to be someone I'm not or try to be a different kind of character," Smith said. "I go out there and be myself.

"I speak up when it's needed. I don't go out there and feel like I'm above everyone else. I try to help guide us in the right direction."

awilson@baltsun.com

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