Musa Smith: "No pain"

WESTMINSTER -- His stare is so fixated on avoiding the pursuing linebackers that Musa Smith's eyes don't even betray if they're blinking or not. The burly Baltimore Ravens' running back deftly eludes an off-balance Bart Scott with a subtle stutter-step before planting his right leg without hesitation. The result of this power move is Smith scooting up the sidelines for yet another first down.

Although it's a remarkable run, it's only a practice. What makes the performance significant for the Ravens and Smith is the back story to the right leg that propelled him upfield.

On November 21, 2004, Smith suffered a gruesome broken right leg. He shattering his tibia in an ugly compound fracture incurred when Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams lassoed him with a since-outlawed horse-collar tackle.

The rule change unfortunately came too late for Smith, whose career was nearly ended following a 13-yard run that marks the longest gain he's generated in three NFL seasons.

Now, Smith has made a recovery that didn't appear to be in the cards only a few months ago when his leg still ached occasionally.

"I have an attitude of gratitude," Smith said. "It's a blessing. I'm definitely grateful that I'm out here and that I'm doing great things. I think I gained something from that an injury and now I'm just trying to perfect my game."

So far in training camp, Smith has easily been the Ravens' most impressive runner, drawing consistent praise from Ravens coach Brian Billick.

Although the Ravens have established veterans Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson in the backfield, it looks like Smith is definitely in the game plan, too.

In a scrimmage Saturday against the Washington Redskins, Smith gained 23 yards on five carries, demonstrating body lean and power.

"He looked good and strong," said Billick, who also routinely calls Smith one of the Ravens' best special-teams performers.

That was far from the case a year ago when the former third-round draft pick from Georgia experienced complications from a leg injury forecast for an 18-month recovery. He was placed on injured reserve after one game.

Two years after the Ravens anointed him as a future successor to Lewis, Smith often wondered if he would ever play football again.

"Those moments last year stuck with me and it was in the back of my head," Smith said. "No matter how hard I worked, it just wasn't ready. So, I let it rest and didn't do anything. I let it completely heal.

"I needed all that time off. It worked because I'm back at it and some people say I look even quicker than I was before."

The difference between this year and last is obvious to Smith. Especially when he considers what doesn't happen when he asks his right leg to support his weight and cut sharply.

"Whenever I ran last year, I felt pain with every step," said Smith, who signed a one-year restricted tender offer of $712,000 during the offseason and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. "This year, there is none. I feel like I haven't lost a step at all."

Smith built a reputation at Georgia as a versatile power runner whose major strength was his ability to overpower defenders with his 6-foot-, 232-pound frame. He rushed for 2,202 yards and 19 touchdowns in 18 starts, catching 27 passes for 187 yards.

Yet, injuries have limited him to 79 career yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and five catches for 36 yards.
The Elliottsburg, Pa., native doesn't have to look far when he's searching for perspective to his misfortune. His brother, John, lost a leg during a mortar attack in Iraq and was awarded the Purple Heart for valor.

"Whenever I think I have it tough, I think about how brave he's been and how great his attitude is," Smith said. "He's my biggest fan and I'm his biggest fan. He's my inspiration."

Smith made a few changes during the offseason in a quest for self-improvement.

He began eating vitamins and stopped eating fried foods, sticking with a strict low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet.

And he hired a personal trainer and invested in massage therapy to recover from workouts.

"I started taking care of my body," he said.

Plus, Smith engaged in the power of positive thinking. It's all about karma for Smith, who attended seminars on visualizing success.

"If you think negative, negative things are going to come to you," he said. "That has so much energy. Worrying about my leg brought me nothing but pain.

"I've switched my thought process. I want to be healthy and that's a real powerful thing for me. It's all about positive thinking and bettering yourself. It works for me."

Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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