Ravens, Torrey Smith looking for big game

Torrey Smith learned a valuable lesson in his rookie season that is serving him well.

The Ravens' second-round pick out of the University of Maryland in 2011, Smith struggled badly in his first NFL training camp and then was held without a catch in the first two regular-season games. The chatter had already started that he was the latest in a long line of wide receivers drafted by the Ravens who would never fulfill their potential.

Smith quieted such talk with a three-touchdown, 152-yard receiving performance in Week Three against the St. Louis Rams. Three years later, Smith is badly in need of another breakthrough to end what has been the most frustrati stretch of his NFL career.

"I definitely haven't lost confidence at all. You can't," said Smith, who has just 11 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown through five games this season. "I learned that the hard way my rookie camp. You can never forget. It's not I'm a bad player. Things just haven't been going my way. No one controls that but me. I'm going to keep on working and things will show."

As the Ravens (3-2) prepare for Sunday's road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-4), their focus remains on getting Smith more involved in an offensive system that was supposed to accelerate his emergence as a No.1 wide receiver.

Instead, the 25-year-old has seemingly regressed. With the addition of Steve Smith, Torrey has been targeted just 29 times, 22 fewer than what he got through five games last year. His 11 catches rank fifth on the team and are five fewer than tight end Dennis Pitta, who played about 2 ½ games before suffering a season-ending hip injury.

Smith's frustration reached its peak in Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a game that essentially was over when Smith failed to catch a Joe Flacco fourth-down sideline pass despite getting both hands on the ball.

"Joe threw a great ball," said Smith, who had another quiet game against the Colts with three catches for 38 yards. "I saw it was a little bit underthrown and I tried to keep him on my back shoulder, which I did. But I slowed down a little bit too much. … The rule is chop your feet and I probably should've jumped and went up. You live and you learn. That's the first time being in a situation — a clutch situation — where I didn't make a play. … It's something I can learn from, and I'll be better for."

Following the game, Smith walked down the stadium corridor by himself, respectfully declined an interview request and then eventually boarded the team bus. Some time later, Smith went on his Twitter account and wrote: "I'm sick right now ... never been in this position before ... very trying times for me on and off the field but I will be better from this."

Smith wouldn't elaborate Wednesday on what — if anything — is bothering him off the field.

"That's private stuff, man. I can't talk about that stuff with y'all," Smith said. "I'm a human just like anyone else. We all have our problems that we deal with on and off the field. I'm thankful to have a beautiful wife and child that can help ease those problems when you come home. But we have issues just everyone else, just like you guys when you go home. That's stuff I have to deal with and my teammates help me deal with it."

Smith did say his frustration has nothing to do with his contract status. He's eligible to become a free agent following the season and though both sides have expressed interest in agreeing to a contract extension which would keep Smith with the Ravens, there's been very little progress made on that front.

His struggles certainly haven't helped his bargaining position either.

"I feel like that stuff takes care of itself," Smith said. "That's something I can't lose sleep over, me going out there and saying, 'Hey, if I make this play, this is going to help.' No, you can't think about that stuff. If I play well, everything else happens.

"I can honestly say without lying to you that the contract doesn't even come up. I don't even talk about it with my teammates or my family members or even [Drew Rosenhaus], my agent. It's something that I don't even want it to be in my subconscious mind. I just want to go out there and play ball."

On Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that the Ravens' focus is "to get Torrey going, and we're going to be working to do that."

Flacco also said Wednesday that he's conscious of Smith's frustrations.

"Whenever any of my teammates feel frustrated, or anything like that, I feel it too. I think we all do," Flacco said. "We're all in this together, and we've all been there. So no matter who it is, I probably feel a little bit with them, and definitely with [Torrey] because he has been a huge part of our offense for a number of years now. And I really like Torrey, so it's very easy to be in his corner and feel for him."

It's not that Smith hasn't gotten opportunities. He has drawn a league-leading six pass interference penalties. But there have still been far too many times where balls have hit off his hand or just eluded him, too many instances where Flacco and Smith haven't appeared to be on the same page. One occurred in the loss to the Colts as a Flacco pass intended for Smith was instead intercepted by Vontae Davis.

Coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense emphasizes Flacco getting the ball out quickly and working the short to intermediate areas on the field. Smith's strength, however, has always been his speed and getting behind the defense.

Still, Smith said he'll have plenty of opportunities to make plays. In fact, he said it's only a matter of time.

"I come in here and I look at Joe and I'm like, 'We've done some great things here,' " Smith said. "I don't doubt anything talent-wise or effort-wise. I'm not going to slack off for anything. I'm just working hard because I know that's the way you can get things done. That's how I've been able to be successful."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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