Smith, newcomers enter proving ground

WESTMINSTER -- Troy Smith can already envision an ideal sequence unfolding Saturday when he steps under center for the Baltimore Ravens in a scrimmage against the Washington Redskins. The rookie quarterback plans to shout out his cadence, study the defense, locate his receivers and, hopefully, deliver a strong-armed strike for a touchdown pass at M&T Bank Stadium.

As the Ravens take on the Redskins, the proving ground officially begins for Smith and several other newcomers looking to forge strong first impressions. Whether it's Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, or $40 million franchise running back Willis McGahee, this marks their debut in a Ravens uniform against another team.

For Smith, who fell to the end of the fifth round due to concerns over his lack of stature, it's a case of wanting to rebound from a rough start to training camp that included a series of errant throws and interceptions.

"I started off a little rocky, as I would expect, trying to think too much early on, but things are starting to come together," Smith said Friday morning at McDaniel College. "The guys have accepted me. In terms of throwing to receivers, it's not throwing to receivers. It's throwing to areas and trusting that the receivers are going to be there.

"It's a totally different trust factor on this level. I'm not one to throw interceptions, so it's hard for me to throw to a spot and expect it to happen. We have great receivers and I have trust in them, and I hope to earn their trust."

Smith had one of his toughest practices earlier this week, uncorking a pair of interceptions with cornerback Ronnie Prude returning one for a touchdown. Over the past few days, though, he has begun to settle down and been more accurate and decisive.

It's a difference noticed by the coaching staff, which will evaluate Smith closely today as he competes with Drew Olson for the third quarterback job.

"Handle the process, get the call right, know where everybody is," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of his outlook for Smith. "It's not going to be perfect. You may not throw the ball well, but did you get the call out? Did you know where everybody was? Did you handle the huddle against another team in front of a lot more people with a lot more pressure?"

Meanwhile, McGahee is looking to prove he's worthy of the Ravens' hefty investment.

A former Pro Bowl runner acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills, McGahee is expecting a great deal of scrutiny, which will be accompanied by a touch of nerves.

"To tell you the truth, when you go somewhere new, you're always going to have jitters," McGahee said. "I'm going to have the jitters when we scrimmage until you get that first hit. Then, it's like, 'Okay, I'm all right."

The scrimmage format will include seven-on-seven passing drills, special-teams work and a series of full-team sequences split into 10-play segments.

Billick has forecasted limited work for the starters in order to get a long look at younger players like Smith, offensive tackles Jared Gaither and Marshal Yanda and fullback Le'Ron McClain.

"Hopefully, we can come away with a couple of answers," Billick said.

Gaither, a supplemental draft pick from the University of Maryland, is slated to play with the first team on the left side with All-Pro Jonathan Ogden still sidelined with a toe injury.

It's a rapid advancement for a 21-year-old who has only five days of practice under his belt and was a late addition to the roster this summer after declared academically ineligible to play football for the Terrapins.

"We'll just see how everything feels, and I'll get my first scrimmage under my belt," Gaither said. "I'm going to work hard and focus, just pound, pound and pound. Get a 'W,' of course, but really just work hard and get my feet wet."

At 6-foot-9, 350 pounds, Gaither combines unique size and mobility. Judging from first impressions, his blocking skills have been more than up to par, even halting Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' charge during pass-rush drills.

"He's been very impressive," Billick said. "He'll get a test on Saturday. So far, this is not too big for him.

"There's a maturity to him. He's very coachable. Ralph Friedgen did a nice job with him down at Maryland."

Plus, McClain is scheduled to start in the absence of veteran Justin Green, who remains on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury.

The 260-pound fourth-round draft pick from Alabama opened eyes when he locked up All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis in a blocking drill this week.

"I just want to show coach Billick and Steve McNair that I'm a great fullback, that I can block and go hard every play," McClain said. "I want to show everybody that I'm a good player and that they drafted me for a good reason."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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