OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Ten games into his NFL career, Torrey Smith has already distinguished himself as the most prolific rookie wide receiver in Baltimore Ravens history.
Were it not for his long dreadlocks, his record-breaking numbers would be even better.
Smith has 590 yards receiving this season, most ever by a Ravens rookie. He’s also the first Ravens player to have two 150-yard games in a season, and his 165-yard performance last Sunday against Cincinnati was the third-highest in team history.
Smith would have had more yards against the Bengals if defensive back Adam Jones didn’t abruptly end a 28-yard play by pulling the receiver down by his dreadlocks at the Cincinnati 41.
Smith said Tuesday he surely would have reached the end zone were it not for the hair-raising tackle.
“Definitely,” he said. “I was starting to separate. I think I would have scored anyway if I had just leaned forward. I thought he was going to try to grab my jersey so I straightened my back up, which exposed my dreads.”
Smith has been wearing the dreadlocks since he was a freshman at Maryland. He was tempted to cut them off before the NFL draft, but friends and family voted against it.
“Everyone told me to keep them,” Smith recalled. “They’re long now and look pretty cool.”
After being drafted in the second round, Smith expected to be the third wideout behind Lee Evans and Anquan Boldin. But Evans has struggled with an ankle injury for much of the season, and Smith has stepped in to become the deep threat the Ravens have been lacking for years.
He burst into the spotlight on Sept. 25, catching three touchdown passes in a 37-7 rout of the St. Louis Rams. He topped that earlier this month by catching the winning touchdown pass in the final minute of a nationally televised win over Pittsburgh.
Then, against the Bengals, Smith had six catches and a touchdown. His 590 yards far exceeds the previous franchise rookie record of 471 by Mark Clayton.
Smith has the speed to outrun safeties and the moves to fool cornerbacks. It’s been a sensational combination, and that’s one big reason why Baltimore (7-3) shares first place in the AFC North.
“Torrey stretches the field for us,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “And the thing he’s added to his game is he’s catching the underneath routes now. That’s going to be big for us moving forward.”
Smith wasn’t an instant hit, in part because the NFL lockout prevented him from participating in minicamps. Upon his arrival in August, he was slow to pick up the playbook and mechanically ran his routes instead of sprinting through patterns. He dropped more than a few balls, too.
Then, after a while, everything clicked.
“I wasn’t really confident in my assignments at first and I wasn’t reacting fast to things,” Smith said. “I wasn’t able to focus and I was pressing. I’m glad that part is over with. I learned from it.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was patient during Smith’s early phase. Given the results of late, it was obviously worth the wait.
“He’s really just starting to understand the game and pick up on what the defense is doing,” Flacco said. “He’s allowing himself to play fast, allowing himself to use that skill set that he has. Anytime a player can free himself up mentally and allow himself to just play with all the talent he has, then they’re doing something for themselves.”
Smith has accomplished plenty already, but considers himself to be a work in progress.
“I didn’t quite expect it to happen so soon because I didn’t expect to play as much so soon. I’m on the field, so I can make plays,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say I’m a star. I’m still growing; I just had a couple good games. I know I’m going to make mistakes. My goal is just to learn from them.”
He is, however, raising eyebrows around the league. The Ravens face San Francisco on Thanksgiving night, and in anticipation of the matchup, former Maryland tight end Vernon Davis — now a star with the 49ers – was asked about Smith’s playmaking ability.
“I like his ability,” Davis said. “I think he’s really similar to what I can do as far as making plays. He can run really well, he can catch. But his biggest thing is that he’s able to run.”
Except when someone drags Smith down by his hair.
“I’ve had the dreads for years, and that was the first time I was tackled by them,” he said. “I think I’ll roll the dice. If it happens again, I’ll definitely trim them.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)