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Keyshawn Johnson predicts bounceback year for Ravens WR Steve Smith

Football

Since the start of Ravens training camp, veteran wide receiver Steve Smith has operated like a man who's determined to prove something.

Smith has been the talk of camp, dashing past cornerbacks for touchdowns. The five-time Pro Bowl selection has snagged passes with one hand and leapt over cornerbacks for long receptions. He has been wearing out the Ravens' secondary with his intensity and high tempo.

Smith, 35, looks like he still has a lot of football left in him.

That doesn't come as a surprise to retired former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who played with Smith for one season with the Carolina Panthers in 2006 before retiring.

"I think it's going to be a great fit because Steve is a different type of feisty," said Johnson, an ESPN analyst, during a telephone interview. "I always call it the little man syndrome, but it's a good thing for him. I know him well. It's all about, 'I'm smaller than you, so I'm going to be feisty, and I'm still trying to prove you stupid general managers [messed] up. You guys judge talent, so you should have been able to judge me right.'

"He takes things personally. I know his thought process. When I played with him, he used to talk about USC players like they were dogs because, even though he was from Los Angeles, they didn't want to give him a shot, and he wound up at Utah. He still holds a grudge. That's fine, whatever makes you tick."

Smith was cut by the Panthers after his production declined last season to 64 receptions for 745 yards and four touchdowns.

The Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $11 million contract in March, days after the Panthers released him. The Ravens hope Smith will inject the toughness into their offense that they've missed since trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers last year following a contract dispute.

"I think it's going to be a great fit," said Johnson, who caught 814 career passes for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns in 11 NFL seasons. "Steve is going to have an opinionated voice about what should be done. I think he's going to be a good talent and help the team in the passing game and running game. I'm excited to see him get going."

When Smith was cut by the Panthers, there were reports that Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman did so partly because he was concerned that Smith was a disruptive force in the locker room. Johnson called that nonsense.

"He ain't a problem in the locker room," Johnson said. "Trust me, that's horse [crap]. They've all got something to say when you're not there. Steve ain't got no problem with anyone if they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. He holds people accountable."

Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak echoed Johnson's sentiments on Smith, who has displayed a lot of energy during the early portion of training camp.

"The juice he has as a player right now at this stage in his career is so impressive," Kubiak said. "Steve is a confident, energizing person on the field, very competitive, ‘Give me the ball, coach’-type of guy, which is what you want. You want guys like that, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

"Really, it’s been good for me because I’ve been trying to teach Steve a whole new system, but Steve does have a background in some West Coast stuff a few years back. We try to cross those things and get him up to speed as quickly as we can.”

awilson@baltsun.com

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