Learning the ropes on the job

OWINGS MILLS -- How Baltimore Ravens quarterback Steve McNair is helping rookie Troy Smith get up to speed on the playbook:

OWINGS MILLS -- Beyond installing the playbook and gauging players' conditioning levels, there's another agenda afoot for the Baltimore Ravens as they conduct another voluntary minicamp this week.

By mixing veterans with raw rookies, it creates a mentoring opportunity.

Especially for rookie quarterback Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State drafted with the final pick of the fifth round.

He's eager to learn from three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Steve McNair, whom he's already acquainted with having worked at his football camp during his college years.

"He's great, he's living and learning," McNair said of Smith, who's projected to be the Ravens' third-string quarterback this year behind backup Kyle Boller. "He's in the meeting room asking questions and that's what a young guy needs to do. He's a young guy who needs to sit back and try to cram everything in.

"He needs to ask questions. If coach says something he doesn't understand, he needs to ask before he leaves that meeting room. That's a plus for him. The more he knows in the meeting room, the less thinking he has to do when he comes out on the field. I think he's progressing really well."

So far, Smith has flashed arm strength and demonstrated a humble attitude. What he has to work on, as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel phrased it, is developing a few pitches outside of his fastball. Specifically, Smith needs to learn when, where and how to direct the football in various situations.

That's partly where McNair can help him. "Learning from him and Kyle Boller is going to be a situation I can carry with me for years to come," Smith said. "It's going to be a great situation for me and hopefully for the other quarterbacks."

Helping young quarterbacks isn't something new for McNair, who counts Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young among his protégés. McNair turned down a Pro Bowl invitation last winter so that Young could be included on the AFC squad as a rookie.

"I've known Troy for a long time," McNair said. "I tutored Troy a little when he was in college. He was also a counselor at my camp. We became friends.

"It's all about trying to help people who want to help themselves. Whatever Troy needs, and all these young quarterbacks, I'm here for that. My time is limited, so I'm just going to try to pass the torch."

NOTES: The Ravens remain cautious about forming instant judgments about rookies as they get acclimated to the NFL.

"You better be careful because you're going to make a mistake on a young man who, right now, is totally confused," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They are all totally confused. If you make conclusions on their athletic ability or how they can make this team based on not recognizing that confusion, you're going to miss on somebody."

Reserve wide receivers Clarence Moore and Devard Darling are heading into the final years of their respective contracts as restricted free agents playing under one-year, $850,000 tenders.

A 2004 third-round draft pick from Washington State, Darling has two career receptions for five yards and no receptions since his rookie year. A former starter, Moore caught two passes for one yard with one touchdown last season. Neither is a lock to make the team.

When asked about their outlook, Billick replied: "It's critical for everybody. Every year, I don't care how many years you have left on your contract or how many years you've been here, if you're a starter or want to be a starter, you have to take advantage of every snap you have out here."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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