Smith: 'It was phenomenal'

OWINGS MILLS -- Rookie quarterback Troy Smith will likely remain under center for the Baltimore Ravens in the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to Kyle Boller's slow recovery from a mild concussion, according to coach Brian Billick. Boller suffered a concussion two weeks ago and has experienced lingering effects, including headaches and sensitivity to light.

The former first-round draft pick is expected to return to practice this week, though.

"The doctors will not put him out there, even in practice, unless he is completely safe and cleared to go," said Billick, who noted that Boller is feeling better. "Not knowing how his progression will be during the week, it's likely that Troy will get another start. We will prepare the game plan with Troy being the starter in mind."

Smith had a solid, albeit unspectacular debut in a 27-6 loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks, demonstrating arm strength, poise and mobility while also struggling with ball security as he lost two fumbles and nearly threw a couple of interceptions.

The former Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State completed 16 of 33 passes for 199 yards and a 77.7 quarterback rating. He delivered a 79-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Derrick Mason late in the fourth quarter when the outcome had already been decided to avoid a shutout.

"He managed the game very well for his first real start," Billick said Monday. "In a very tough circumstance, the weather, the crowd noise, a very multiple defense and he kind of pieced things together well. There wasn't a blatant, 'My God, what did you do there?'

"So, it was pretty good. And now it has to step up in the recognition, the execution. But he handled the game as we thought he would. We talked all week about how he's been in the big arena before, so you had a sense that he wasn't going to be blinded by the headlights, so to speak."

Yet, the Ravens' offense didn't cross midfield until the final minute of the first half. And Smith fumbled with seven seconds remaining as he was holding the football way too loosely.

"I was trying to press and do too much," Smith told reporters in Seattle. "Ball security is incredibly important. At that point, me being the young and inexperienced guy, I didn't have that kind of notion, I was just trying to free-for-all and trying to make a play. Obviously, you can't do that in the National Football League. These are too good of athletes."

Under a barrage of blitzes and line stunts, Smith maintained his composure even though he committed a mistake on a botched handoff exchange with fullback Le'Ron McClain. He never seemed to panic.

"There were some great things that he did and there were some things that he'll learn from," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel said. "As far as looking composed, I thought he did a great job."

Smith kept breaking the huddle with a smile on his face even after Baltimore quickly fell behind 21-0. His arm strength was impressive even if the accuracy wasn't always there.

Afterward, he accurately recognized that this offense, and this injury-riddled team remain a major work in progress.

"Being a Baltimore Raven, we have a lot of work to do on offense, on defense, the whole way around," Smith said. "Our nucleus of a team is still yet to be made. We still have some things we have to iron out as a team, but I had fun out there. I really did."

With star running back Willis McGahee knocked out of the game in the first quarter with two fractured ribs, Smith had no running game to fall back on.

It was basically him alone against a veteran defense headlined by defensive end Patrick Kerney, outside linebacker Julian Peterson and cornerback Marcus Trufant. Not to mention the boisterous crowd at Qwest Field.

"You have got to keep fighting regardless of the fact," Smith said. "Teams are going to do things to try and ruffle your feathers and as a competitor as a player as a professional you have to be able to stand up take what their offering and move on."

Smith's positive attitude could help the Ravens' cause as they try to snap a franchise-record nine-game losing streak. The Ravens (4-11) are assured of sole possession of last place in the AFC North for the first time since 1997, when they finished 6-9-1.

Drafted 174th overall with the final pick of the fifth round, Smith drew praise from his teammates.

"Troy hung in there, took a few hits, still got up," Mason said. "You respect a guy that goes out there and, regardless of the situation, continues to fight. Troy hung in there through a lot of adversity on the field and continued to battle with them."

This was Smith's biggest workload after entering the game with four career series in relief of Boller. There's little separation between the ratings of injured starter Steve McNair (73.9), Boller (75.2) and Smith (73.6) during this dreary season.

With Sunday's outing, Smith has already exceeded past Heisman busts such as Eric Crouch, Jason White, Gino Torretta, Gary Beban, John Huarte and many others.

"With four quarters underneath my belt, I understand now what the NFL is all about," Smith said. "It was phenomenal. To be out there on the field with those same guys, it's incredible."

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

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