's mind is moving faster than his fleet feet can take the
rookie wide receiver this summer, and that's causing some discomfort both inside and outside the team.
It's no secret Smith, a second-round draft pick from Maryland, has struggled through his first three preseason games. He had made just two catches for 8 yards. In last week's game against the
, he dropped two passes, both very catchable.
Less than two weeks from opening night, it's not certain Smith will be the Ravens' No. 3 receiver against Pittsburgh — or that he'll get on the field against the
Smith's sluggish start might be disconcerting for the Ravens, given their tepid history of drafting receivers. It might even be cause for alarm if the fans didn't already know Smith as a big-time playmaker for the
the past two years.
But after an offseason when the lockout robbed all rookies of precious time to ease into their positions, the Ravens are committed to giving Smith the necessary time to grow fully into his.
"He's making progress," coach
said. "Everybody has their own path. Everybody has their own issues they have to deal with. For one guy, it's route-running. For another guy, it's whatever."
For Smith, 22, success means moving past the mental strain of trying to learn a new system and meet expectations at the same time. Ravens quarterback
thinks Smith simply has to do what he has done before — run past defenders and catch the ball.
"I think he has a tendency to over-think things," Flacco said. "He always wants to do the right thing. He always comes up to me and tells me he wants to do the right thing. Sometimes when you go out there on Sundays, you just have to let it go and play.
"If you go out there and make mistakes, you make mistakes. … He's just going to have to learn that. He has all the ability to go out there and let it come to him."
Those are the words of a young quarterback who can identify with Smith's early struggles. Flacco might have three rookie receivers with him this season, and he'll have to make accommodations for that youth.
Thursday night was an example. Smith was open on a third-down slant pattern in the first quarter when he mishandled Flacco's pass. He muffed another one later in the half.
"I definitely was pressing," Smith said. "I've been used to making plays forever. I'm not a receiver that's known for drops. Those are plays I've got to make. If there's a positive and a negative, I really feel like [it's] the fact that I am getting open. … I've just got to relax and play football."
Mindful of the expectations for his local hero, Harbaugh was sensitive to questions about Smith, particularly on the subject of drops. But he also remains convinced Smith will become the playmaker the team envisioned.
"To me, if you start dwelling on that, then it makes it harder to do it; he's not going to do it," Harbaugh said. "He can catch the ball. He's catching the ball well in practice. He's going to be fine. Just lay off the kid and let him develop and become the player that he's going to be. It's going to happen. It's just a matter of time, and that's the variable."
Smith acknowledged that speed is the biggest difference between the college game and the
game. But he feels he's making up for time lost to the lockout.
"You've got to think on the fly, and things happen a lot faster as far as adjusting to defenses," he said. "At the end of the day, it's just football. … I'm getting more comfortable every game. Obviously, I haven't made as many plays as I'm accustomed to doing. But there's definitely a difference in my play. I play faster, I'm more decisive."
Smith has gotten a lot of reps in practice, and fresh legs are one of the blessings to the end of training camp. It's uncertain how much time he'll get in the final preseason game in Atlanta on Thursday, and Harbaugh wouldn't say what Smith's role might be for the opener Sept. 11.
"I think we coach as hard as we can to try and get them ready, and we'll just see where he's at," Harbaugh said. "Whatever playing time he gets [against Pittsburgh] will be reflected in how far along he is. So he might be ready to go in the opener. Or there might be someone better than him in the opener. But he's going to be a good player. No doubt about it."