OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While all eyes will be on Steve Smith when the Ravens welcome the Carolina Panthers to Baltimore on Sunday, Torrey Smith simply hopes to get his 2014 season on track as we approach the quarter pole.
It’s been a slow start for the fourth-year wide receiver who has just six receptions for 85 yards through three games a year after setting career highs with 65 catches and 1,128 receiving yards. Targeted by quarterback Joe Flacco 19 times through three games, Smith has reined in only 31.6 percent of those attempts, which would be a career-low completion percentage for the 2011 second-round pick’s career.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Smith has taken the rough beginning in stride, choosing to focus on a number of close calls that could have gone for big plays. In the Ravens’ win in Cleveland last Sunday, Flacco was hit on a deep ball to Smith that was intercepted and later missed the open wideout in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown. Of course, Smith has brought some misery on himself such as when he dropped a short screen pass that would have gone for big yardage late in the fourth quarter against the Browns.
“You can’t get any closer than we already have been,” Smith said. “I have folks tweeting me how terrible I am, and I could very easily have had three touchdowns and 300 yards the past couple weeks. But that’s how the ball rolls. I’m not used to it, but we’ll get over it soon.”
Most expected Smith’s opportunities to decrease a bit simply because the Ravens added more weapons such as Steve Smith and veteran tight end Owen Daniels to go along with what was a healthy Dennis Pitta returning for the start of the 2014 season. But with Pitta suffering his second right hip injury in the last 14 months, Baltimore will need more production from others beyond Steve Smith, who leads the team with 18 receptions for 290 yards and has quickly become Flacco’s most dependable receiver.
What has been most concerning is the lack of comfort shown by Torrey Smith in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system, which places an emphasis on the precision and timing of short-to-intermediate throws. Smith has improved his route-running ability since his rookie season, but he is at his best when asked to use his straight-line speed and still appears too stiff when asked to quickly change direction while running shorter routes.
Even if Kubiak hasn’t found the perfect way to utilize the younger Smith’s skills just yet, he doesn’t appear discouraged with how the 25-year-old is playing.
“We had five opportunities for him to have big plays in the [Cleveland] game,” Kubiak said. “Joe gets hit one time, and [we] get a [pass interference] the next time. I felt bad for him coming out of the game because, really, he had a chance to make some big plays. We missed him in the end zone. But he’s working extremely well. Like I said, it’s going to take all of us — keep spreading around. Joe [has to get] the ball to the right guy, and that guy has to make a play.”
Of course, it’s important to remember Smith is the kind of receiver who can’t be evaluated too definitively — good or bad — based on a smaller sample of games as all it takes is a couple successful deep balls to put him back on track. In 2011, many were ready to call the rookie a bust when he went without a catch in his first two NFL games before he caught three touchdowns and collected 152 receiving yards in Week 3 that led to a respectable rookie campaign of 841 yards and seven touchdowns. Last year, Smith looked like he was on his way to an All-Pro season with 556 receiving yards through the first five games before collecting just 572 more over the final 11 games.
While it appears that Steve Smith has at least temporarily wrestled away the title of “go-to receiver” — Browns cornerback Joe Haden shadowed the veteran for large portions of the Ravens’ Week 3 win — Torrey Smith is confident he will start capitalizing on the opportunities that have been near misses thus far. And his chances would only figure to increase if opposing defense continue to focus more closely on the elder Smith.
“We were as close as you can get to touchdowns; we just have to be on the same page and get it done,” Torrey Smith said. “It’ll happen. It has no choice, but to happen. The way we’ve been practicing, it has no choice but to happen. I can’t say when. I hope it’s Sunday, but it’ll happen soon.”