The Ravens have built a reputation over time when it comes to the draft for finding value in players that other teams may question for reasons not altogether evident on the football field. Getting guys like Terrell Suggs though, because he ran a less than desirable 40 time at the combine and took some bad advice about putting on weight pre-draft, and getting Jimmy Smith a talent drawing favorable comparisons to Nnamdi Asomugha because of drug and character issues would seem to be two different types of propositions altogether.
The only real comparison between the approaches that landed the Ravens Suggs and now Smith in different drafts were the episodes of time mismanagement allowing teams to jump the line, a la the Vikings and Byron Leftwich in that same draft.
With Smith the talent, athleticism and potential are undeniable, the other side of that coin however is that the baggage, character questions and drug problems are equally undeniable. Whichever side of the coin ultimately decides Smith’s legacy will be determined over time, but for now it would seem that the time trusted mantra of Ravens fans, “In Oz We Trust” is being put to the test of late.
One has to at least wonder what Newsome is thinking, given the recent backdrop of Sergio Kindle and his ongoing situation. Perhaps Ozzie is trying to cheat the system by stealing talent to make one last run at Super Bowl glory before riding off into the sunset. Or perhaps the inability of the Harbaugh regime so far to develop talent drafted in the later rounds has led Newsome to look for easy answers, and players who can contribute without having to be coached up, even if with those players comes a certain amount of risk.
The Chris McAllister comparisons are bound to be plentiful with regard to Smith’s combination of size, football skills and attitude. In fairness though, while McAllister seemed to be a generally “bad guy”, with Smith comes the additional baggage of drug problems. We’re not talking about another kid who smoked a little weed here. Smith failed at least 3 drug tests that we know about, at least one of which involved misuse of codeine syrup, assault charges and other instances of what could generously be called repeated bad judgment, Something tells me that giving this kid a couple of million dollars and expecting him to fly right is a hopeful proposition at best. Again, these are just the things that we know about, unless Smith is simply a terrible deviant, it’s fair to guess that there have been countless other questionable incidents that either went unnoticed or were glossed over because of who Smith is.
Now it seems that Coach Harbaugh, who seemingly had no patience at all for McAllister’s antics just a couple of seasons ago, is not only willing to work with Smith, but apparently made an impassioned plea to get him. Has Harbaugh turned a new leaf in regard to his own patience? Is he going to be able to maintain credibility in the locker room if / when his star takes a stance contrary to the coach’s liking? There are lots of ways that I can see this thing ending, and most of them are unfortunately bad.
And with all due respect to the gravity of what I’m about to mention, I find the assertion that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are simply going to be able to keep this kid in line either laughable or insulting although I’m not sure which. First of all, how long are we counting on Reed and Lewis to remain here? Surely the Ravens envision a window of effectiveness for Smith that exceeds the career expectancy of both Lewis and Reed. And furthermore, and more importantly, what makes folks think it’s that simple? Obviously Sergio Kindle found ways to screw himself and the team long before Reed and Ray even had a chance to try and impart wisdom on him. Should we expect that Reed and Lewis are currently rushing to the side of this soon to be millionaire, prepared to hold his hand until he demonstrates that he doesn’t need it?
Back to the all due respect part…let’s not forget about the tragedy that befell Reed and his family as the Ravens season came to its conclusion in January. Reed’s brother lost his own life after a police chase attributable to criminal behavior, ultimately linkable to drug use. While the details of the background story are sketchy, drugs are serious…period. Hard drugs, like those that Smith has turned to already, require a lifelong commitment to steer clear of. If Reed (again with all due respect) couldn’t get through the grip of drugs and criminal behavior on his own brother then what makes anyone think he’ll be Smith’s saving grace? It’s simply not fair to ask or Reed, or Lewis or anyone other than those who knew all of the facts and made the pick anyway to take responsibility for Smith and his actions from here out…and Smith himself of course.
How much would you be willing to bet that the kid with abounding character questions, from the neighborhood that scared off college recruiters, and who saw fit to wear a Scarface T-shirt for his big, national TV moment, actually…really gets it? Would you bet your job? The jobs of your colleagues and subordinates? Your company’s success? (At least it was Tony in the white suit, at the height of his power and not Tony behind the desk and the pile of cocaine. Metaphor?)
If Smith has turned to hard fixes from the “Purple Draank” this early in life, we might draw from that certain conclusions, fairly or not. Maybe he’s just a knucklehead. Maybe he has deep emotional pains that drugs help to numb. Or maybe, and possibly worst from a football perspective, actual physical pain has led him to stronger and stronger solutions to make it go away.
This is not your father’s Purple Kool-Aid.