OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, veteran wide receiver Steve Smith is settling in with the Baltimore Ravens.
In more ways than one, apparently.
“I had to find a place to stay,” Smith said this week at training camp. “Figure out where the restrooms are. Find out which trainer tapes the best. I love the 1 Winning Drive [address of the Ravens’ training facility]. That didn’t come on my little gadget [GPS] thing. I learned that coming to BWI that Avis is a little bit higher than Hertz. It’s been a transition.”
That bit of playfulness with reporters probably was a sign that things are going well so far, in Smith’s view.
“It’s been a good transition,” he said. “I think honestly the one thing I can walk out of here and I look at is, ‘What do I bring to the table? What do I have that is of value?’ And so I just look at these young guys and I talked to the young guys earlier today and I just said there’s not too many more … training camps that I’ll be participating in, for obvious reasons. And I want to sit down when I become a true fan, no longer an employee, no longer a player, and I’m sitting on the couch on Sunday and I’ll be able to say, ‘I know that man.’ Not the guy that caught that touchdown: ‘I know that football player.’ But, ‘I know that man.’
“It just comes to a point where obviously we’ve got to be transparent with each other. We’ve got to be able to know each other’s weaknesses and we’ve got to [know] their strengths, and vice versa. That’s really what I’m working on with these guys, is being able to know when they need some help with some things, and also when I need some help with some things. That’s been really fun and cool to go through.”
Following his release by the Panthers, the Ravens signed Smith in March in part to mentor younger players, but also to aid quarterback Joe Flacco as the QB attempts to rebound from a 19-touchdown, 22-interception performance last season.
Smith turned 35 in May. He is coming off a 2013 season in Carolina in which he had 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns. He topped 1,000 receiving yards in seven different seasons for the Panthers, including as recently as 2012. He perhaps does not have a dominating season left in him, but the Ravens will be satisfied if he is a reliable complementary receiver, and team officials seem encouraged by what they have seen thus far from Smith in training camp.
He has put his trademark intensity on display since the offseason with a couple practice-field fights, although none of them came with the San Francisco 49ers in town for three joint practices with the Ravens that concluded Monday.
“I’m having a ton of fun,” Smith said. “I’m having a lot of fun — smiling, laughing. I think I ruined the office pool because they had over-and-unders on my fights. I had zero. So I get all the cash.”
He also is a tough critic of his own performance.
“It was a key third down [and] if I dropped a ball like I did today, then I’m not gonna be very good,” Smith said following Monday’s practice. “But I think [it’s about] just concentrating, making sure that I keep myself at a high level, keep myself entertained, keep challenging myself. I tell guys, ‘Make a play a day. Be making a play a day and be persistent, always work on something.’ I’ve got something to work on every single day. So I keep that mindset and I think it’ll work out for us.”
In the offseason the Ravens hired Gary Kubiak, the former head coach of the Houston Texans, as their offensive coordinator. And the starting offense had a brief but encouraging performance in last Thursday’s preseason opener, crafting a first-possession touchdown drive against the 49ers before being given the rest of the night off.
“I think with the weapons we have, I think they’ve got to pick their poison,” Smith said of opposing defenses. “I think one time this guy may have a lot of catches, a lot of yards, and the other guys may not. Then the next week, a team is gonna focus on shutting that guy down and then another guy [will be productive]. I think that benefits you. You can never have too many horses in the stable. When you have that opportunity, the offensive coordinator, it makes it a lot easier on them.”