Most of the players attending this week's first set of optional team activities were scattered around the large auditorium near the heart of the Ravens facility in Owings Mills for a team meeting Wednesday when a late arrival set off the entire room.
A rallying point during last year's playoff run, inside linebacker Daryl Smith was a player many thought they might not see for the first of three optional workouts. Then in walked Smith, admittedly "running a little behind" but in Owings Mills, ready to show an increasingly young defensive core that even veterans can benefit from OTAs.
"When he came in the room [Wednesday], we were excited to see him," second-year inside linebacker Zachary Orr said. "It means a lot for us to see him out here. It gets us fired up."
He might have been able to arrive with less fanfare, but his participation on the field in Thursday's heat and humidity was difficult not to notice given the list of veteran players not doing the same.
Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, defensive end Chris Canty and cornerback Lardarius Webb were all absent Thursday from the open portion of the first set of OTAs, making the 12th-year linebacker's presence that much more noticeable.
What has been a normal part of Smith's offseason routine for his entire career took on added significance for a defense with an influx of young players trying to match the value and production of their experienced leaders.
"It means a lot seeing a guy of that stature who has been in the league that long coming out here and putting the work in just like us," said Brandon Williams, a third-year defensive tackle who is entering his second season as a starter.
"You can play with a guy like that. You can believe in a guy like that. You can trust him being behind you calling plays and calling shots, and actually listen to what he's doing. It means a lot to see him out here working."
Coach John Harbaugh acquiesced when asked of Smith's value as a leader and teacher on the field, but was quick to point out there's more to his presence at OTAs than just that.
"[He is] getting guys lined up, just running the show and showing the young linebackers how to run the show," Harbaugh said. "C.J. [Mosley], obviously, has seen that for a year now. It's a big plus for us. He's still a very good player, too. I think he led the defense in production points per play [Wednesday] in practice, too, so he can still play."
That was the case for Smith in 2014, as well. A year after leading the Ravens with 123 tackles in 2013, his first with the team, Smith shepherded the then-rookie Mosley to the team lead beside him and racked up a career-high 128 tackles of his own, second-most on the team.
It was the seventh time in Smith's 11-year career that he played all 16 regular-season games, and his second straight season doing so with the Ravens.
Smith's role was equal parts teacher and player Thursday. He rotated in for some repetitions, but made way for Orr and third-year inside linebacker Arthur Brown to get some time with the first-team defense. Mosley, who underwent offseason wrist surgery, was present but was a limited participant in team drills.
"He's one of the hardest workers on the team, and then he'll see little things you can work on, he'll let you know," Orr said of Smith. "He's an easy guy to approach, and that just makes it that much easier to go up to a guy like that."
Said Smith: "Whether it's here or down the road, that's the type of guys we have. We talk about it, figure it out and get it done."
Other than sheepishly discussing his well-received — albeit late — arrival, Smith said his presence at OTAs is nothing to be celebrated.
"I always did some," he said. "It's just part of the routine since I've been in the league. It was no extra effort. It's nothing significant, especially in my eyes. I'm just glad to be here putting in some work and having some fun."
He learned early in his career that even his typical offseason routine of some rest, then back to working out isn't enough to get into true football shape. And he knows that his routine is his own. For other players as tenured in the league as he is, taking the option to spend more time away from the facility is one he understands.
"I know those guys. I've been here with them for two years, and I know how those guys work," Smith said. "I know they'll come in ready and when we all get together, it's going to be even more exciting, with even more work put in.
"But for the guys that are here now, we go about our business."