Smith trying to break injury jinx

WESTMINSTER -- Musa Smith has become far too acquainted with scalpels, surgeons and sutures to repair a series of injuries, including a gruesome broken leg. Anointed five years ago as the Baltimore Ravens' running back of the future, Smith's NFL career has been stalled several times due to medical setbacks.

His career was nearly ended by a severe broken leg during his second season as the recipient of a 2004 horse-collar tackle by Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams. At this juncture, Smith is more of a survivor than a star.

That the former third-round draft pick from Georgia is still even playing football -- after leg and knee surgeries along with a procedure on his neck this offseason that have placed him on injured reserve during each of the past three seasons -- is fairly remarkable.

Now, Smith, whom Baltimore signed to a one-year, $1 million contract this spring that included a $490,000 signing bonus, is trying to remain healthy and run without hesitation as he's slated for a third-down back role behind starter Willis McGahee.

"I ain't worried about staying healthy," Smith said. "I play the game the way I play the game: full-speed. Whatever happens, happens."

What has tended to happen to Smith since entering the NFL in 2003, though, is periodically being sidelined with various ailments.

Last season, was his healthiest campaign yet as he played in 12 games and rushed for a career-high 153 yards on 36 carries with a career-high 22 receptions for 135 yards. However, Smith injured his neck against the Tennessee Titans, a stinger that eventually ended his season.

Smith has a daily reminder in his family to not feel despair about his hard luck.

His brother, John, lost a leg in a mortar attack while serving in Iraq and was awarded the Purple Heart.

"He was definitely an inspiration," Smith said during an interview last season. "Seeing him, what he went through, losing a leg and having shrapnel throughout his body, I knew I could get back up because my leg was just broken.

"My family are all fighters. We don't give up. There's definitely perseverance. It runs through my blood."

Smith has displayed a ton of perseverance, forging a backup role on offense and a pivotal special-teams niche.

He has registered 24 career special-teams tackles while rushing for 232 career yards, two touchdowns and 27 catches for 171 yards.

"I'm lucky to get that second chance, and I'm still playing the game I love," Smith said. "I'm running with it. I have nothing to complain about."

Smith's agent, Jack Reale, reiterated that stance when the former All-Southeastern Conference running back re-signed with Baltimore in March.

"He's looking forward to rewarding the club's loyalty to him with a strong and healthy season now that he's gotten his injuries taken care off," Reale said in a telephone interview. "He's been cleared medically. He's had miserable luck. I think he's going to burst out this year. I think their plan is to get him on the field a lot this year."

However, Smith has had a relatively quiet preseason so far, rushing for five yards on three carries during the Ravens' 29-3 victory Monday night over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Smith, 25, insists he's not feeling any lingering problems from his neck surgery, or harboring concerns due to his lengthy medical history.

"My strength is good, I feel good," Smith said. "I'm getting good reads, and I'm hitting the holes good. I feel fine."

What's not exactly determined, though, is how much playing time he'll receive as the Ravens have installed McGahee as the featured runner. Smith is competing with veteran Mike Anderson for the primary backup job.

"I don't know exactly what my role is, because nothing has been defined to me yet," Smith said. "I just know that I'm helping out on offense and special teams and I'm having fun playing football. That's what matters."

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

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