Ravens' Smith making his comeback bid

OWINGS MILLS – Writhing on the ground in agony and staring at his shattered leg in disbelief, Baltimore Ravens tight end Trent Smith had one recurring thought that hurt nearly as much as the multiple fractures and damaged tendons. Would he ever play football again after suffering eight different breaks in his left leg following an impressive catch over the middle during an Aug. 9, 2003 preseason game?

"Within 30 seconds of breaking my leg, my first thought was would I be able to come back and the answer at first was, ‘I don't know,'" Smith said as the Ravens concluded a four-day passing camp Thursday. "Everybody asks themselves that question and some guys answer the call and some guys don't.

"I broke so many bones and nearly had a compound fracture because the bone was pushing against my skin, my tendons were blown up, I strained my hamstring in that leg and I sprained my ankle real bad. It was bad. I wish I would have just broken my leg."

Two years after his aborted rookie campaign, Smith is battling for a roster spot. He's back on the field and beginning to run crisp routes while showing off two of the soundest hands on the football team.

Smith spent the last two seasons on injured reserve, a testament to how highly the Ravens regard him. He tried to come back a year ago, but his leg had atrophied significantly and he struggled to make sharp cuts.

"I wanted to play bad, but I probably would have wound up getting myself fired," Smith said. "I'm glad they thought more of me than I thought of myself at the time."

For Smith -- a former seventh-round pick from Oklahoma -- this summer will be a critical proving ground.

The Ravens will be looking for Smith to flash the potential he demonstrated on that ill-fated 39-yard reception against the Buffalo Bills, but the roster is crowded with quality tight ends.

"To give him a legitimate change, we wanted to make sure he was completely healthy and not put him out there too fast where he couldn't succeed, and we're starting to see some of the same ability," tight ends coach Wade Harman said. "I haven't noticed him limping or favoring the leg at all. We can look at cut-ups and compare to his rookie year, and it's getting closer."

So far, the outlook is promising for Smith, but the major caveat is the presence of so many other proven commodities at tight end.

There's Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, stalwart blocking tight end Terry Jones, athletic, imposing Darnell Dinkins and Daniel Wilcox. He's more of an H-back type who caught 25 passes last season.

Smith has to start all over again, although there will be extra repetitions available since Heap is out for the majority of training camp after shoulder surgery.

"It's a different situation now with two other guys here," said Smith, who caught 154 passes for 1,445 yards and 16 touchdowns at Oklahoma. "I want to be a role player in the offense and have big responsibilities on special teams."

The Ravens are likely to keep three or four tight ends, which means special-teams ability is likely to dictate final decisions on whom to keep.

"I told Trent you just worry about your own game," Harman said. "When we get the pads on him, that's when the intensity will show up. He looks good, but I'm anxious to see him strap it on."

Smith said he has gotten over his fear of his leg crumpling underneath him, having compartmentalized that August night out of his active memory.

"I don't feel it out there in between the whistles," Smith said. "I'm just trying to pick up where I left off before I got hurt."

NOTES: Offensive tackle Orlando Brown was held out of practice as a precaution following off-season knee surgery. … Wide receivers Mark Clayton (hamstring) and Clarence Moore (neck) were limited in drills, and kick returner Derek Abney (shoulder) was out again. Abney's status is uncertain after spending last year on injured reserve with a dislocated shoulder. … Quarterback Kyle Boller was scheduled to attend the Hollywood premiere of "The Longest Yard" Thursday night along with teammate Will Demps. Terrell Suggs was listed among the invitees, but is due back in court today in Arizona to change his plea in an aggravated assault case. … Billick will deliver the commencement speech at the University of Maryland-Baltimore graduation today. "Accountability will be my main message to them," he said.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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