Smith: 'Critics are always going to be there'

OWINGS MILLS -- Troy Smith was doubted, derided and nearly doubled over with indignation for the past four months. That downward spiral ended happily for Smith on Sunday afternoon when the Baltimore Ravens drafted the barely 6-foot-tall Heisman Trophy winner with the final pick of the fifth round.

Between intense scrutiny of his lack of ideal height, a disastrous meltdown during the national championship game against the University of Florida and a shaky display of inaccuracy at the NFL scouting combine, it had been a long time since anything positive had happened for the Ohio State senior quarterback.
After being snubbed for nearly two days by NFL general managers despite a sterling career where he went 25-3 as a starter and passed for 2,542 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions last season to claim college football's grandest prize, Smith could finally breathe a cleansing sigh of relief.
"Oh my goodness, it's unparalleled being in a situation where I felt as strongly as I did for Baltimore when they called my name," Smith said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters from his Ohio home. "My family went crazy. I went crazy. It's a beautiful situation." Eight quarterbacks were drafted prior to Smith, a Cleveland native who passed for 5,720 career yards with 54 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on 62.7 percent accuracy.
Why did his stock plummet so dramatically despite such a glittery body of work in the ultra-competitive Big Ten Conference?
"The wait wasn't a concern for me," said Smith, who arrives in Baltimore slated for third-string duty if he makes the roster. "The organization that I was going to be a part of is an ideal fit. Accolades are not something that drives me.
"What drives me is getting into a situation that would be best for me and the people that I can represent. Accolades will come as long as you stay even-keel and have a good thought process."
During the BCS national title game, Smith completed just 4 of 14 passes for 35 yards with one interception and sacked five times during the Buckeyes' 41-14 loss to the Gators. That began the negativity surrounding him.
At the scouting combine, Smith bristled at multiple questions about his height. Many scouts wondered aloud whether he was tall enough to play in a conventional pro-style offense.
"Critics are going to be there for the rest of my life, there's nothing I can do about that," Smith said. "In a lot of ways, it makes people stronger. My whole life, I've been fighting that battle and it's turned out positive right now. I'm just going to continue to stay the course."
Along with several other quarterbacks, the Ravens had Smith in for a pre-draft visit at their training complex. They came away impressed by his willingness to forge a spot in the NFL after being an All-American star and a campus celebrity in Columbus, Ohio.
"I said, ‘Here you are coming off a big-time career at Ohio State, playing in the national championship, being the Heisman Trophy winner and you're going to walk in that locker room and you're probably going to be a nobody because we've got some Hall of Famers in that locker room,'" Newsome told Smith. "He really relished that opportunity."
However, the Ravens were noncommittal on whether they view Smith as a potential quarterback of the future who could eventually succeed veteran Steve McNair.
"Whether he develops into a starter, I think that's up to Troy," Newsome said. "He will be given those opportunities. One of the things that Troy impressed upon me was that he went to Ohio State in a similar situation where nobody really gave him a chance and he earned his way onto the field and became a starter and then the Heisman Trophy winner."
What the Ravens liked about Smith were his arm strength, intangibles and how he propelled Ohio State to two Big Ten championships. Plus, he ran for 1,168 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"He has all the physical tools," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's got everything it takes to be successful as a quarterback. He's proven it at the collegiate level and now is very, very motivated to prove it in the NFL."
When asked about Smith's lack of stature, director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said he wasn't overly concerned.
"Players' value fluctuates over the course of the year," DeCosta said. "We've liked him since the fall. Height, is that a factor? Sure, it's a factor, but I think there have been some very good quarterbacks in our league who have been able to overcome a lack of height very effectively and I think Troy can do that."
Apparently aware that Smith might not be drafted during the first day of the draft, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel called Newsome early last week and gave Smith a ringing endorsement.
"He said, 'I feel like this would be a very good place for him,'" Newsome said. "I took the information down, and it just so happened to fall that way."
There were also character issues involving Smith. He was found guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in 2003 after a fight with five women in a campus parking lot where which a car window was kicked in. One woman reported that her jaw was broken.
Following the 2004 season, Smith was suspended two games after accepting $500 from a booster to pay for a cell phone that his mother got for since-jailed former Buckeyes star Maurice Clarett.
"That was cleared at Ohio State," Newsome said. "If there were going to be major issues with that, I'm sure with the type of program that they have at Ohio State, they would not have allowed Troy Smith to remain eligible there and continue to play. They can go out and recruit any other great player, so why would they tolerate something like that."
Although Smith arrives in Baltimore after 173 other players had their names called this weekend, that extensive series of snubs didn't seem to bother him too much.
He was too simply enamored at the prospect of learning behind McNair, a former Pro Bowl quarterback who has led his team to the Super Bowl.
"Oh man, that's an eye-opening experience in itself," Smith said. "He's going to continue to prosper, and he's going to take me with him. I just want to learn from him for as long as I can."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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