Minicamps, maxi effort

The Baltimore Sun

Troy Smith has neither the first-round pedigree of Kyle Boller nor the "quarterback of the future" label of Joe Flacco.

But Smith has put himself in the thick of the Ravens' starting quarterback race -- and some would say at the front of it -- because he's confident he can win the job.

With a big arm and even bigger chip on his shoulder, Smith has outplayed the other quarterbacks during this spring's minicamps, backing up his claim there is "no doubt" he can go from a fifth-round pick to a starting quarterback in one season.

"It's just about the work you put into it," Smith said after the Ravens' third series of offseason workouts. "I sit and look at the guys who are the premier athletes at my position. The last time I checked, they had 10 fingers and 10 toes. I've been through too many things in my life to say that one thing is going to take me away from doing what I want to do."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said no one is going to win a position battle during these non-contact workouts, but it was tough to ignore Smith's performance yesterday.

The former Heisman Trophy winner hit his tight ends in stride deep down the middle of the field and then showed great touch when he threaded a 15-yard pass between two defenders for a touchdown in a red-zone drill. Boller struggled hitting his receivers, getting the ball frequently knocked down by the defense.

The coaching staff, though, has been just as impressed with Smith off the field as on it. He has perfect attendance in the weight room and the classroom.

"To me, he's given himself the best chance to try to have an opportunity to become the quarterback of this team," quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson said.

Some of his teammates said Smith's confidence comes from hearing people question his height (6 feet), accuracy and ability to be an NFL pocket passer.

But Jackson said Smith's inner strength is the result of his success, from winning the Heisman to guiding Ohio State to the national championship game.

"I really love his confidence, because he believes there is nothing that he can't do playing the quarterback position," Jackson said.

Asked if anything has surprised him about Smith this offseason, receiver Derrick Mason joked that it was "the size of his head" before pointing to Smith's improved leadership.

"If I did something wrong, he's not scared to come up to me and say, 'Mase, you messed up,'" Mason said. "That's what you respect in a player. Not only is he going to go up to the guys that are second- and third-stringers, he's going to come to the first-stringers and say, 'Let's get this going.'"

Because of his swagger, Smith immediately connected with the veterans, even as a rookie.

He proved himself to the team when he showed poise despite being pushed into starting the final two games last season. It seems veterans respond to Smith more than the other quarterbacks.

"I think he did an admirable job last year," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He's just trying to take the next step forward. There's always the next tier. I think this [competition] is wide open and he has a tremendous opportunity to start at quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens."

The biggest knock on Smith is his height. That point was underscored when the Ravens drafted Flacco, the tallest quarterback (6-6) in the draft.

Smith then created a stir last month when he incorrectly referred to the first-round pick as "John Flacco," causing some to think it was an intentional slap at the Delaware quarterback. He has since apologized to Flacco.

"That's not what I'm about," Smith said. "That time and energy should be put toward your craft rather than single someone out."

From his play at these minicamps, it seems that dedication and hard work is paying off.

"It's hard in a year to say that you got it. He is still learning and still getting better," Jackson said. "But God, do I love the attention to detail and the passion about doing it. You couldn't question that at all."

Notes -- Harbaugh shot down rumors that the Ravens are interested in trading for Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor. Asked if the team has had official talks with Miami, he said, "Not that I'm aware of." ... There is still no timetable for offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has yet to announce his retirement. Harbaugh keeps in touch with the 11-time Pro Bowl lineman through text messages. "Nothing definitive on Jonathan," Harbaugh said. "I don't think there's any change. I wouldn't speculate on it." ... Running back Willis McGahee participated yesterday after missing previous voluntary camps. "The guy is a quality back in the NFL," Harbaugh said. "We just need to get him in football shape and give him an opportunity to learn this offense inside and out. That's what he's doing right now." ... Linebacker Edgar Jones, who worked as a tight end at times yesterday, caught nearly every pass thrown his way. He played tight end in high school. ... Receiver Demetrius Williams (Achilles' tendon), tight end Daniel Wilcox (toe surgery), linebackers Dan Cody (foot) and Mike Smith (shoulder) and cornerback David Pittman (foot) did not practice. Offensive tackle Adam Terry (ankle surgery) was limited. ... Flacco could not attend this minicamp under NFL rules because Delaware doesn't graduate until Friday. ... Recently signed free-agent cornerback Lenny Walls watched from the side.

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