Smith: 'I can't say it's pressure'

OWINGS MILLS -- Troy Smith is on the cusp of assuming control of the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback job, and his emerging status is connected to reasons that extend beyond his meager statistics.

As the former Heisman Trophy winner starts against the St. Louis Rams tonight at the Edward Jones Dome, his command of the huddle and mobility are the primary factors for why he could remain under center when the season opens.

He's slated to play the majority of the game, and a convincing performance could end the competition.

Smith defiitely has the support of the locker room.

"Troy is real poised, and that's probably the biggest thing I've seen from him," linebacker Antwan Barnes said. "As far as leadership, he does pretty much everything right.

"He believes in himself and he makes other people believe in him, too. If he messes up, he doesn't worry about it. He goes on to the next play and tries to make it right."

Confidence and leadership are paramount attributes for Smith, a former Ohio State star who plummeted in the draft a year ago due to concerns about his lack of size. Also, some teams reportedly downgraded him for a perceived brash attitude.

Now, Smith is getting a major opportunity to take over the position.

"It's been written a couple of times that last week was my best chance, so obviously you guys have better insight than I do," Smith said. "Chances are going to come, opportunities are going to come. I have to make the most of them.

"I can't say it's pressure. I'm kind of hard on myself. As a quarterback, you put yourself and your team into situations where the crucial decisions that you make shape the game."

A former Ohio State star drafted with the final pick of the fifth round last year, Smith has made a better impression with his legs than with his right arm.

He has rushed for 41 yards on six carries, but has passed for just 99 yards.

"The main thing a quarterback does is he moves the ball and puts points on the board," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's what we would like to see. There's a lot that goes into that.

"Guys can make plays, or guys won't make plays around him. Of course, you would love to see that part of it as well as running the offense well, which he's done a good job at to this point."

Smith has operated the offense well at times, leading a scoring drive against the Minnesota Vikings where his audible led to rookie running back Ray Rice's 42-yard burst. However, he hasn't been efficient in his limited opportunities to throw.

Earning his teammates' respect and making decisive decisions are pivotal for a quarterback.

"It means a lot," Smith said. "You step into a game, and I'd be a liar if I told you that everybody agrees with every play call. But as a quarterback you have to have an understanding that every play call could be that play that breaks the game open."

The Cleveland native has completed just 8 of 17 passes, a team-low 47.1 percent clip. Like his counterparts, Kyle Boller and Joe Flacco, Smith has yet to throw a touchdown pass.

His quarterback rating is 41.1, which ranks at the bottom of the Ravens' quarterbacks.

Smith completed 3 of 5 passes for 25 yards against the Vikings, throwing an interception when his slant pass to Mark Clayton was delivered slightly behind the wide receiver.

"He played well, he's been playing well all camp as well as the other guys," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "For him to get the nod for this game, it's not surprising."

The coaching staff has witnessed a lot of subtle improvement from Smith, even if it hasn't manifested itself on a consistent basis during the preseason or during an occasionally erratic training camp.

"I think it's steady across the board," Harbaugh said. "He's throwing more accurately, there's no question about it. He's handling the offense. He's making the calls in the huddle. "As a matter of fact, he's pretty much nailing all the calls right now. The ball-handling stuff, the stuff we're putting in with the boots and the waggles and all the stuff he does well, I think you see that stuff, inch by inch, get better all the time."

Last season, Smith completed 52 percent of his passes in three games. Starting the final two games with Steve McNair and Boller injured, he completed 32 of 60 passes for 370 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Meanwhile, Boller has completed 70.4 percent of his throws for 142 yards, but has committed three turnovers on two interceptions and one lost fumble. That mirrors his track record since being drafted in the first round in 2003. He's not expected to play tonight as rookie Joe Flacco may finish the game.

"Right now, I would suspect that Troy is going to get every opportunity to play a lot," Harbaugh said. "But if we're getting a feel for something and we want to try something else, we always have the option to do that in a preseason game. But our plan is for Troy to play, and we might bring Joe in at the end."

At some point, someone needs to separate himself from the pack after an entire offseason with a winner yet to be declared.

"We're waiting just like you are to find out who's it going to be," tight end Todd Heap.

Harbaugh was noncommittal on whether a good game will conclude the competition in Smith's favor.

"What you're asking me is, 'If he plays well, is he going to be the starter?'" Harbaugh said. "We haven't decided."

The Ravens are practically doing everything but shouting for someone to prove that he should be the guy.

Tonight is Smith's showcase.

"Of course, you want to know who your starting quarterback is," Mason said. "You really want to know that right now. That's a decision they have to make. You want to have that settled as soon as possible."

NOTES: Four players are expected to make their preseason debuts: cornerback Samari Rolle (left leg), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (right knee), tight end Daniel Wilcox (offseason toe surgery) and offensive tackle Adam Terry (left ankle). ... Among the players not expected to play: cornerback Chris McAlister (right knee), tight end Todd Heap (right calf), offensive tackle Jared Gaither (sprained right ankle), cornerback Derrick Martin (right shoulder), wide receiver Demetrius Williams (left Achilles' tendon), defensive tackle Kelly Talavou (dislocated shoulder), nose guard Kelly Gregg (left knee) and running back Willis McGahee (left knee).

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


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