A year ago at this time, Torrey Smith was dealing with the confusion of being a rookie wide receiver trying to absorb the complexities of an NFL playbook.

His adjustment was even tougher due to the lockout robbing him of a normal offseason after being drafted in the second round out of the University of Maryland.

Consequently, the speedy wideout got off to a rough start during the preseason last year.

Now, Smith has had the benefit of a full season working with quarterback Joe Flacco along with several organized team activities, quarterback school and part of a minicamp.

And the upgraded comfort level for Smith is obvious during practice sessions. He's no longer a perplexed NFL neophyte.

"A lot more confident," Smith said this week heading into tonight's preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. "This time last year, I could barely walk and chew gum at the same time. I was thinking so much about the assignment and kind of really worrying about things that I shouldn’t have been worrying about. For me, coming into this year understanding our offense, just trying to develop as a player, it’s definitely a lot less stressful.

"I was going to yard sales and all kinds of stuff last year, and you get that phone call, and you are here just like that. I’m thankful for it. I’m glad everything happened like it did last year, because I think it forced me to develop, and I was kind of sharpened through the fire. I had some rough stages. I was able to go and learn it. I have been through a lot in my rookie season, and at this point, I feel like there’s nothing that can happen to me that I wouldn’t be able to handle.”

After a slow start last season, Smith wound up setting three franchise rookie records with 50 receptions for 841 yards and seven touchdowns.

Although his hands weren't always consistent, Smith caught a game-winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a November game at Heinz Field.

He caught six passes for 165 yards and a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in a November win, earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

And he caught five passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over theSt. Louis Ramsduring his first NFL start.

"I was more focused on what I left out on the field," Smith said. "To me, it could have been a lot better. I have high standards for myself. To know looking back at the end of the year, watching all of the plays that I left on the field, it could have been a monster year for me. I know as long as I can be consistent, I can do that, and I can reach those goals. That's what I'm working towards. .. I can do everything. It's just a matter of doing everything right all the time, and that's how you become a great player."

Smith underwent sports hernia surgery after last season and has made a complete recovery.

He has displayed a better understanding of the offense and sounder hands than last year.

"He's a year ahead of where he was at this point last year obviously," coach John Harbaugh said. "Last year was tough for the rookies, too, because they didn’t have the offseason. So, he’s just not a year ahead, he’s a year and an offseason ahead. He’s a veteran now. The gains are going to be a little more one-step-at-a-time gains, but this is a guy that comes to work every single day.

"All he thinks about is how he can get better. He is the most efficient improver, if that’s a word. that I’ve ever seen. He gets the most out of every day, and that’s why he’s going to continue to become a great player.”

Plus, Smith and Flacco appear to have much better timing this season.

"He's taking control, I'm on the Joe Flacco bandwagon," Smith said. "He's very consistent in his play, and it's on us to play catch-up with him. Our chemistry is growing, getting better and better each and every day. He was here during the offseason.

"We were throwing all the time. I think there's a huge difference compared to last year when the only receiver that he had ever thrown a ball to in a game wasAnquan [Boldin]. So, it was a big difference and I don't think people realized how tough it was on him for us to kind of catch up to his pace."

awilson@baltsun.com