Despite a long-standing reputation as one of the most honest players in the NFL, Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr. has been as elusive talking about his injured Achilles as he has been on the field for much of his productive 16-year career.
He was a bit more forthcoming Wednesday.
Speaking more candidly than he has since sustaining the most significant injury of his career in a Nov. 1 victory over the San Diego, the 37-year-old talked at length about the reasons he is trying to come back for another season and how arduous a process it has been to get there.
Smith mentioned that he wants to fulfill the three-year contract he signed with the Ravens after being released in 2014 by the Carolina Panthers – the only team he had ever played for. He mentioned how comfortable he feels in Baltimore. And then Smith got to the heart of the matter.
"A thousand receptions, to be honest," Smith said after the Ravens finished their second day of a three-day minicamp in Owings Mills. "You've got to have something to strive for."
Smith, who is still in the process of rehabbing the injury, ranks 15th in NFL history (fifth among active players) with 941 receptions. Even a mediocre season would bump him over the thousand mark, as long as he stays healthy.
Smith can already envision what might happen when – or if – he reaches the magic number achieved by only 13 receivers in league history.
"I may catch that, in my uniform, get in my car and go home," Smith said with a smile. "Straight from there. Drive all the way from M&T Bank [Stadium] straight to Charlotte [N.C.] in one shot."
Smith is not giving himself a timetable for returning to the field, though he certainly he has seen progress.
"I'm day-to-day. I say that, not trying to be standoffish," he said. "This is seven months. Where I started, and where I am, I can't overthink it. One of the guys where I'm doing rehab [with], he says, 'Embrace the grind.'
"... Where I started from – a knee scooter to crutches to a boot to shoes to putting on cleats today – I have to enjoy that part and not get too far ahead of myself."
Smith admits the rehab has not been easy.
"At any stage of rehab and this kind of injury, you always are going to go, 'Man, do I really want to do this, because what happens if?'" Smith said. "I know that when you're younger, you just blow through all caution and not concern yourself. When you're older, you start to think about the percentages, about what's the percentage of me being able to be this or that?
In truth, the disappoitnment for Smith began well before he was injured last season. The Ravens lost their first three games and five of their first six, including back-to-back losses to Oakland and Cincinnati in which Smith caught 23 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns.
"If you have a disappointing season like we did, you don't get up feeling good," he said. "If you're a competitor, you don't feel good about that. You always question things going the way you hoped."
The proverbial chip that has been on Smith's shoulders throughout his career is still visible. Without much prompting, Smith talked Wednesday about not being mentioned among the NFL Network's list of the top 100 players heading into next season.
"You look at those guys in the top 100 and they talk about being the best and they've been playing for about 15 minutes in the league," he said. "I just kind of laugh at it. If your highlight is making the top 100 on the NFL Network for a year of success, when I was making plays when you were in kindergarten, then you can have your career and you can be on TV."
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While Ravens coach John Harbaugh has always encouraged players returning from an injury the previous season to try to get live competition in the preseason, it's likely the coach will let Smith decide if he'd rather play or rest.
For now, it appears Smith would vote against coming back before the Sept. 11 opener against the Buffalo Bills.
"I've been very comfortable throughout my career not playing in the preseason," Smith said. "I don't have any problem with that. Just four games that don't count and the liability of injury at the senior citizen age that I am, I think probably staying out will be good."
Asked if he has thought about making the Hall of Fame, Smith again becomes a bit elusive.
"You think about it, you think about the Hall of Fame, you think about the Super Bowl," he said. "Now with the way moves are going, you think about the Pro Bowl in Orlando. You think about a lot of things. Ultimately, it's out of my hands. I just want to go out and have fun doing it."