After two drops in the Baltimore Ravens’ third preseason game – a 34-31 win over the Washington Redskins – rookie WR Torrey Smith (Maryland) faced a fair share of criticism from fans and analysts alike.
Some of his critics have gone as far to already label the former Terrapins star a “bust” despite having not played in even a single regular season game. Based on the drops in particular, much of the criticism lobbed at Smith has included comparisons to fellow former Terps receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey has caught just 35 passes for less than 500 yards and only two touchdowns in two seasons since being selected in the Top 10 of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.
While has Smith has made a total of just two catches for eight yards in the preseason, fans have watched receivers who entered Training Camp lower on the depth chart offer more significant contributions. Second year man David Reed and fellow rookies Tandon Doss & LaQuan Williams (Maryland, Poly) have all made more plays without the number of drops that have troubled the team’s second round pick.
Even so, the Ravens have made it clear they have not soured on Smith and still see him as a significant part of their 2011 plans.
With newly acquired WR Lee Evans (left foot) sidelined for a second straight practice Monday, the Ravens again had Smith working with the first team offense. It is a clear sign that Smith has not dropped below third on the team’s wide receiver depth chart.
Following Monday’s practice, Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron said there are lofty expectations for the rookie.
“It is a process for guys. We all want things to be instant, we want guys to just jump right out of the blocks and dominate the National Football League and just go from there (but) it’s easier said than done”, Cameron said. “He’s a great practice player, works extremely hard. Over the years guys that approach things the way he’s approaching the game get better (and) improve. That’s our expectation for him, just to get better and improve.”
Cameron said he’s impressed by the extra work Smith is putting in to try to improve.
“He and (QB) Joe (Flacco) are spending some extra time together. He was in the building yesterday-one of the few guys in the building and those are all good signs. He’s got a bright, bright future and sometimes it just takes a couple games under your belt to get comfortable.”
Ravens players had been given the day off Sunday.
Cameron also told reporters he felt like he might have an idea as to why Smith has struggled so much early in his NFL career.
“I think it’s just overall learn(ing) the system” Cameron said. “We’ve gotta get him to where he doesn’t think about the play-just go out and play and let his natural ability just show itself. I think that’s going to come.”
Cameron’s re-affirmation came just two days after Head Coach John Harbaugh encouraged media members and fans to “lay off the kid” when asked about Smith’s struggles.
It is important to note that while excusing Smith’s struggles based on his lack of experience is fair during the preseason, fans and analysts alike won’t be as quick to give him the benefit of the doubt should he have troubles in the season opener against the team’s AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers September 11. That game is less than two weeks away.
In fact, Cameron himself may have made the most significant comment Monday when asked about whether or not the team’s Offensive Line would be ready to go by September 11. The question was particularly relevant considering how the first unit has just finally started working together on the practice field due to injuries (C Matt Birk and RG Marshal Yanda), position moves (RT Michael Oher having been shifted from LT) and new acquisitions (LT Bryant McKinnie).
Cameron was quick to say “absolutely” when asked, and followed it up with “we don’t have a choice. This is pro football and I think we all know what that means. By the time that game comes around, the expectation for the player, for us as coaches from the fans is that we’re ready to play. No ifs, ands (or) buts about it. No excuses.”
The same philosophy could be used with Smith.
If he’s going to be the team’s third receiver when the Ravens face their division nemesis at M&T Bank Stadium, he’s going to have to perform.