Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith displayed another element to his evolving skill set in Thursday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Instead of reprising his strength as a rookie with a trademark fly pattern, Smith showed a growing knowledge of the route tree.
During a 48-17 victory over the Jaguars , Smith hauled in eight receptions for 103 yards while being targeted a game-high 11 times by quarterback Joe Flacco.
The former second-round draft pick from the University of Maryland primarily operated underneath the defense with a series of hooks, curls and intermediate sideline routes.
"I think he's on the way to becoming a complete receiver," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Smith, who leads the Ravens this preseason with 11 catches for 146 yards. "He'll probably tell you that it's a long way off. It's probably closer than he would admit, but that's the kind of mentality he takes all the time. I'm pretty biased towards Torrey Smith because he's just what you're looking for."
Smith's reputation as a deep threat was warranted after he caught 50 passes for 841 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. He averaged 34.4 yards per scoring reception, but cornerbacks are now treating him differently.
Rather than employing press coverage and risk being beaten on a long throw, defenders are granting Smith extra room to run shorter patterns.
"It definitely benefits me a lot, because there is so much that opens up, the underneath routes," Smith said. "I understand that's a part of the process, and that's why I've got to continue to work on everything and get better, so it's kind of tough on them having to respect going deep and underneath routes."
From offensive guard Bobbie Williams' vantage point, he was able to watch the 6-foot, 205-pounder utilize his speed and moves to gain separation.
"Look at the wheels and watch him run," Williams said. "It's always fun to see him do his thing. Ain't nothing but an upside with him. He's a hard worker, and he has youth on his side. He's a very humble guy. That's going to take him a long way with his ability."
Smith's low-key demeanor and respect for veteran's advice leads All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach to compare the second-year player to respected receivers.
"Torrey's potential is through the roof, first of all," Leach said. "He's quiet, he works hard all the time and he's well-respected. He has blazing speed, but he listens and takes coaching well. He's got a chance to be one of the great receivers.
"He reminds me of a Donald Driver because he's smooth. He's faster than Andre [Johnson], but not as big as him. And he reminds me of [Texans receiver] Kevin Walter because they both work really hard."
Smith set franchise rookie records last season for catches, yards and touchdowns. He caught the game-winning touchdown in a November game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, registering five receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns against the St. Louis Rams in his first NFL start.
And Smith was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week when he recorded six receptions for 165 yards in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I'm excited about all these young guys that we have, particularly Torrey," free safety Ed Reed said. "He's just a young guy who is willing to learn. He's under Anquan's [Boldin] leadership, man, and he's just soaking it in."
Hobbled slightly by a lingering sprained right ankle that kept him out of the Ravens' second preseason game against the Detroit Lions, Smith limped over to the sideline following a 16-yard reception in the first quarter Thursday night against Jacksonville.
Smith sat out a handful of plays before returning to catch more passes, but not before receivers coach Jim Hostler teased him about his ankle problem.
"The toughest person on me is Coach 'Hos,'" Smith said. "He said, 'You're full of drama, limping' I was fine. I come to the sideline and [they said] you're done. Done? I was excited to get back out there."
Smith was in position for a few deep strikes steps ahead of coverage, but he and Flacco couldn't connect.
Nonetheless, Flacco has observed a difference in Smith's game.
A year ago, Smith struggled initially to catch the football and appeared to be thinking too much. Now, he's much more sure-handed and decisive.
"He's getting really good at route running and he's catching the ball really well," Flacco said. "He's going to get a lot of yards after the catch. He'll be able to get the ball underneath and go. If he can catch the ball and stay on the move, he's going to be really tough to stop. ..
"Torrey is a great kid, so it's awesome to see him turn into the football player he has become. He's a guy that last year did so much for us just because he can flat-out run. This year, and even last year as the season progressed, he's just becoming a complete receiver."
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