Torrey Smith's first NFL training camp has been about adjusting to a new offensive system and a different level of expectations.
After an entire offseason of presuming he would be a backup as a rookie, Smith felt his NFL world change in a matter of days when Derrick Mason signed with the New York Jets and Malcom Floyd stayed in San Diego.
The second-round pick out of Maryland is now preparing himself to start beyond Thursday's preseason opener at Philadelphia. Smith is ready to line up in the spot vacated by Mason, the franchise's all-time leading receiver, when the Ravens kick off the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 32 days.
"I know I'm not going to make every catch," Smith said. "I know I'm not going to get every assignment right. But I'm going to be a playmaker."
Former New York Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery visited team headquarters Tuesday, but the Ravens haven't aggressively pursued him. This might be a signal that the Ravens are ready to start a rookie wide receiver for the first time in six years.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said one of the reasons why the team drafted Smith and Tandon Doss (fourth round) was because they were receivers who "would get up to speed quickly."
The Ravens wouldn't be the first team to rely on a rookie wide receiver to produce immediately. Over the past three seasons, 14 receivers have caught at least 45 passes in their first seasons. Tampa Bay's Mike Williams topped all rookies in 2010 with 65 catches and 11 touchdowns, so it's not unprecedented for young wide outs to make a strong first impression.
"I think he's going to have to make an impact," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "What kind of impact? We don't know yet. He's going to have to play, and get out there, and kind of learn as he goes along. So, he's going to have to make an impact, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be a good one for us."
When Smith first met with reporters at training camp, he made a point of saying, "Obviously, I am not Derrick. I am not a veteran. I am not the leading receiver in Ravens history."
The Ravens, however, don't want Smith to be Mason. They want him to be the receiver that can compliment Anquan Boldin's style. He has shown a knack for getting behind cornerbacks on deep routes and turn quick passes into big gains throughout training camp.
Some draft experts graded Smith as a first-round talent after he averaged 15.7 yards per carry last season at Maryland and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the NFL combine (fourth-fastest among receivers).
But he lasted until the end of the second round, the fifth wide receiver taken behind A.J. Green (Cincinnati), Julio Jones (Atlanta), Jonathan Baldwin (Kansas City) and Titus Young (Detroit).
"My mind set throughout the draft is where you get picked is just where you start," Smith said. "It's about where you finish. I want to be the best player I can and show everyone I belong at this level."
Smith is trying to break the Ravens' rocky track record when it comes to drafting wide receivers. No rookie receiver has ever caught more than 44 passes for the Ravens and only one (Mark Clayton) has recorded more than 28.
Boldin, who has become the mentor to the Ravens' receivers, put his support behind Smith.
"I think he's one of those guys that are capable of stepping into that No. 2 spot," Boldin said.
The challenge has been increased for Smith because the lockout eliminated all of the offseason workouts. He didn't get on the Ravens' practice field until July 28.
"I think I will be prepared," Smith said of starting on Sept. 11. "The biggest thing is just making sure I can execute. You can't play well if you don't know what you're doing. I feel like I'm doing better, and I'm getting better each and every practice. I'm playing faster each and every practice because I'm really getting the playbook down. I'm just excited about the opportunity. You just have to take advantage of it."
|Eddie Royal, Denver||91||980||5|
|DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia||62||912||2|
|Davone Bess, Miami||54||554||1|
|Donnie Avery, St. Louis||53||674||3|
|Austin Collie, Indianapolis||60||676||7|
|Percy Harvin, Minnesota||60||790||6|
|Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia||55||762||4|
|Michael Crabtree, San Francisco||48||625||2|
|Mike Thomas, Jacksonville||48||453||1|
|Hakeem Nicks, N.Y.Giants||47||790||6|
|Johnny Knox, Chicago||45||527||5|
|Mike Williams, Tampa Bay||65||964||11|
|Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati||52||600||3|
|Dez Bryant, Dallas||45||561||6|
Only 14 rookie wide receivers have caught at least 45 passes in a season since 2008: