Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. hosted his inaugural local football camp Monday at Owings Mills High School. He was joined by teammate Lardarius Webb and several high school coaches. (Kevin Richardson)
Steve Smith Sr. enters his second training camp with the Ravens armed with the comfort of a year's experience with the team, and perhaps more importantly, a grasp on the team's expectations.
A 14-year NFL veteran who spent the first 13 years of his career with the Carolina Panthers, Smith found out last year during the team's playoff run just how high the bar for success is here — and what it means to enter a season with that in mind.
Last season, Smith was making his fifth playoff appearance in 14 seasons, while the Ravens were back for the sixth time in seven years under coach John Harbaugh.
"People don't get that opportunity," Smith said Monday, the first day of the Northwestern Mutual Steve Smith Sr. Football ProCamp at Owings Mills High School.
"There's a precedent set by the organization that is set by the performance year-in and year-out," Smith said. "I think the expectation is deep in the playoffs, and if there's not [a run like that], then people get the sense that it wasn't a successful season. ... I think that shows what the standard is in Baltimore."
The receiver, who along with other veterans will report to training camp Wednesday, will lead an inexperienced position group on whom the team's success could hinge. With the production of wide receiver Torrey Smith and the playbook of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak gone to San Francisco and Denver, respectively, Smith will shepherd a group of targets who will aim to help quarterback Joe Flacco surpass last year's career highs of 3,986 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Along with the team's secondary, Smith and the young receivers will be keys to the Ravens' season.
Still, Smith has perspective on the quest that defines every NFL player's journey, and has for so long defined him. He says he won't let his lack of a Super Bowl ring "put a value on me anymore.
"I believe this — winning a Super Bowl is no different than losing a Super Bowl," said Smith, whose Panthers lost Super Bowl XXXVIII to the New England Patriots. "But I look at it where if you win the Super Bowl, you get your ring, you walk away or you stay there, you still have the same bills, the same issues, you're the same person.
"Whatever you have going on, that ring doesn't do anything to change that. You don't all of a sudden get free cable for life because you won the Super Bowl. DirecTV or whoever you have, they still want their money."
That doesn't mean Smith won't do everything he can to get there. He admits it'll be a different experience with the team this year.
He may take advantage of the veteran days off Harbaugh allows during training camp, but despite the coach's comments at the end of last season that Smith "doesn't have to be [in] a role where he's playing every snap," Smith expects to play as many or more snaps in 2015, simply because the season will last longer into the postseason.
"I anticipate playing more snaps and playing further into January," Smith said.
If that's the long-term goal for Smith this season, getting ready for training camp is more pressing. He said his camp was a good way to get acclimated to being outdoors in the Baltimore heat, and that a leak in his garage while he was home in Charlotte, N.C., means the training camp hotel accommodations will be welcome, given the repairs that will be necessary at Smith's local home.
Smith is in his 10th year working with ProCamps, but his first in the Baltimore area. Some of the 100-plus in attendance, like 13-year-old Carlee Maltba of the Charlotte suburb of Concord, can attest to how good Smith's camps are.
Carlee went to her first Steve Smith camp in Charlotte at age 8, and was devastated when he left the Panthers in early 2014.
She went to the replacement camp in Charlotte this year, led by running back Jonathan Stewart with Smith and linebacker Luke Keuchly as special guests, but said it wasn't the same. So, Carlee looked up Smith's new camp on the Internet and implored her mother to make the nearly seven-hour drive to Smith's camp in Owings Mills.
"She's a diehard Steve Smith fan," Tiffane Maltba said. "Anything that involves him, she wants to go. She just adores him."
ProCamps executive director Rod Huber, who is the head football coach at Mount St. Joseph University (Ohio), said Smith was the first professional he worked with, and still impresses him with his effort in engaging the campers. Smith is the only one of the 30 pros who signs every camper's shirt, Huber said.
"This is what it's about," Smith said. "You get an opportunity to do this, and if you do it long enough, you start to get to see the kids come back each year. They get bigger and bigger, so that's pretty cool. That's the best part about it."