Harbaugh was the special teams coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. Smith was a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, and he also returned kicks and punts. In those roles, both took the field early during warm-ups, giving the player and coach a chance to get to know each other a little before Eagles and Panthers games.
So, the two weren’t exactly starting from scratch earlier this month when Smith came to Baltimore for a free-agent visit on the same day that he was released by the Panthers. But that didn’t make Harbaugh any less curious about what Smith would have to say.
“I wanted to hear kind of his view on how he was going to fit in and what his role would be,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t want to speak for him, but I think he understands the culture is in place and a way of doing things is in place, and he wants to be a part of that. I didn’t have to explain to him and him go, ‘Oh ok. I get that.’ He was explaining to me how he saw us and how he saw his role, and that was the same vision that I had for how he was going to fit in. He’s going to be great with our young receivers. He’s going to show them a little bit of the way in practice and how to compete on Sunday. I’m excited about that. Plus, he’s a really hard worker.”
Harbaugh spoke to reporters for more than an hour Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings, and he was asked far more about his new receiver than anybody else on the Ravens’ roster, including running back Ray Rice, whose off-the-field issues have been a prominent topic this offseason.
Harbaugh was asked whether he was concerned that the fiery Smith could be a locker room distraction. He was questioned about how much the 34-year-old receiver had left, and whether Smith can still be a legitimate deep threat.
The Ravens did their homework on the five-time Pro Bowl selection and concluded that he would fit with the team well.
“Through our investigations, I guess you can call it, we came away feeling really good about the impact Steve is going to have on our team that way,” said Harbaugh when asked a question about Smith’s feisty personality. “He’s a tough competitor. He’s a mature grown man. He’s a family man. He’s a man of faith. I think the world of him. I always have. We have a relationship that goes back to when he was a rookie, and we’ve kept in touch throughout his whole career in the NFL. And then when we came in for the visit, all of the things he said unprompted were all the things that I wanted to hear, and I just think he’s going to be good for all of us, and he can play. We’re excited about him.”
Smith has acknowledged that he’s not the same player that he used to be, and he has spoke of being a complementary piece in the Ravens’ offense. His 64 catches and 745 receiving yards were his second-lowest for a season since he became a full-time starter in 2005.
But again, the Ravens saw enough to conclude that he’ll add a new dimension to their offense.
“I think Steve Smith can still play,” Harbaugh said. “We watched the tape — not just from last year - but previous years. Numbers are part of it. He’s not the same jet that he was when he was younger. I was at Disney with my daughter and stuff like that, and some of those roller coasters are pretty fast. They just explode off the rails now. I think he’s not quite that. After the catch, what he used to do is he would make a catch and he’d run a wide arc and just outrun the defender. That’s the one thing that you don’t see anymore. He’ll usually get tackled on an angle now. But that’s something he’s even talked about improving and making a tighter transition after the catch and getting upfield after the catch more quickly, so that’s something he’s probably going to adapt. But he’s still got plenty left. He makes tough catches in traffic. He makes tough catches outside. He catches nine-routes. He catches comebacks. He catches stop 9s. All of the tough catches outside, he makes. He’s still a tremendous competitor, and I think he’s going to bring some grit to our offense. He’s going to help us."