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Ravens’ Torrey Smith prepares for big game

AP Photo

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

OWINGS MILLS, Md.—After the Baltimore Ravens determined they would use their 2011 second-round draft pick on Torrey Smith, the Stafford High School graduate and Colonial Beach native received a phone call from Ozzie Newsome.

The Ravens general manager and executive vice president told Smith the organization was fixated on him from the beginning of the draft process.

    TUNE IN

    SUPER BOWL XLVII

    Ravens (13–6) vs. 49ers (13–4–1)

    WHEN: Feb. 3, 6:23 p.m.

    WHERE: Superdome, New Orleans

    TV: CBS (channels 6, 9)

Smith was equally enthralled with the Ravens.

Nearly two years later, the hookup has proved to be ex-actly what each side wanted.

Smith is the big-play wide receiver Baltimore coveted. And the Ravens have provided the welcoming atmosphere that has allowed Smith to steadily progress.

Smith ranked second on the Ravens in catches (49) and receiving yards (855) this season and he leads them in yards per reception (17.4).

He’s a key reason Baltimore will play in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans.

“It’s perfect because this is where I wanted to be,” Smith said Friday. “I’ve said that for the longest. I’m playing for the team I wanted to play for. I fit in perfectly playing-wise and in this locker room. I’m just thankful. I say it to myself all the time and to everybody else. I’m just the happiest person in the world to be a Raven.”

Smith said when he was going through the draft process several teams expressed interest, including the Washington Redskins.

Smith said many of his friends and family members wanted him to play for Washington because it is their favorite team. The Redskins had opportunities to draft Smith, but traded down multiple times and eventually selected University of Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson in the third round.

“No disrespect toward the Redskins,” Smith said, “but I wanted to play in Baltimore.”

Smith’s mother, Monica Jenkins, wanted that, too.

Jenkins said she was impressed with the way Baltimore responded favorably to a Washington Post article detailing her struggles raising Smith and his six siblings.

Smith said Ralph Friedgen, his former head coach at the University of Maryland, told him the Ravens were a top-notch organization and would provide an ideal match.

Monica Jenkins (far left) was among those who were thrilled it was the Ravens that drafted her son on April 29, 2011. (Photo by: Pete Cihelka / The Free Lance-Star)

“The Ravens, to me, are more of a family team,” Jenkins said. “It’s all for one, one for all. It’s not one person. It’s 52 people. The Redskins are the perfect example. They don’t say Redskins any more. They say [star quarterback] RGIII! RGIII! Here, it’s Ravens! Ravens!”

Smith said the Ravens’ stability has helped him become a more complete player. There was no questioning his blazing speed when he declared for the draft after his redshirt junior season at Maryland.

But there were concerns about his ability to catch the ball with his hands. Smith said one session with Newsome early in his rookie season helped change that.

The Hall of Fame tight end sat down with Smith and showed him clips of every pass he dropped during the preseason.

Newsome explained to Smith that every miscue occurred because his head was turned up the field before the ball arrived.

“I was having concentration lapses,” Smith said. “I was not looking the ball in.”

When one watches Smith play nowadays there is no evidence of those struggles. He’s made several highlight-reel catches, including a leaping grab over Denver Broncos All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey in an AFC Divisional Playoff victory.

Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said Smith’s hands are now “very, very good” and continually getting better.

“Torrey does a lot of things well,” Caldwell said. “I think the obvious thing that people look at is the fact that he runs down the field and catches passes and he’s a big-play threat. He certainly does that. He has the speed and the ability to run away from you, or run by you to make a big play. But he can also block you. Torrey’s a complete player.”

Caldwell said Smith has progressed so well because “he’s one of those guys that all he does is exactly what you tell him to do.”

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Ravens’ veterans. Jenkins said one reason she wanted Smith to play for the Ravens is to learn from All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, whom she calls “the father of the team.”

But Lewis is set to retire following the Super Bowl. Veteran center Matt Birk said that once he, Lewis and others are long gone, Smith has what it takes to be a leader in the future.

Birk said Smith possesses “all the things you want in a player no matter how talented they are.”

“It just so happens he’s extremely talented, as well,” Birk said. “When you combine hard work and talent you see the product out there on the field. He’s a very good person. He’s friendly with a big heart. Those are the people guys in the locker room look up to.”

Smith earned more respect from the Ravens after he caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a win over New England earlier this season one night after his brother Tevin Jones died in a motorcycle accident in Westmoreland County.

But while Smith’s performance that night earned accolades, Jenkins said the support from the Ravens helped make it possible.

“God works in mysterious ways,” she said. “He positions you because He knows what’s going to happen. He knew that my son was going to pass. But He positioned Torrey so that Torrey had all the love that he needed from the Ravens. It was a tragedy to all of us. But I thank God he had the support from his team that he needed to get through.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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