For five years, I lived in North Carolina, often catching Panthers games when the Ravens weren't on. During that time, I already had an appreciation for Steve Smith. But today, I got to watch him work in practice for the first time and I'm even more fascinated with his work.
He's physical, he plays pissed off but he's also one heck of an asset to the coaching staff.
Smith's hands are fantastic — he literally catches everything. At 5-9, he's not the tallest guy on the field, but he hauled in multiple passes over taller defenders by correctly positioning his body and utilizing his leg strength/leaping ability. I was impressed at the skills Smith displayed on the field, but what was even more impressive was how he carried himself when he was supposed to be resting.
At 35, some would say that Smith is a player/coach. However, I can't lump him into that category because player/coaches often have all the wisdom in the world but their skills on the field have often diminished. Smith has plenty of football left and he's still a very good player with a tremendous amount of experience.
I won't call him a player/coach because that often means the person isn't nearly as good of a player as they once were. I strongly don't believe Smith falls into that category. After out-muscling cornerback Chykie Brown on a 50/50 jump-ball, Smith spent the next five minutes with Brown standing aside head coach John Harbaugh and coaching him on how to improve moving forward.
Smith has embarrassed plenty of defensive players, but he also coaches his fellow wideouts with plenty of experience under their belts. For instance, after another series on the field, Smith returned to the sidelines and worked for five minutes with Torrey Smith on footwork and quick cuts.
After practice, I asked offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak how much easier Smith makes his job.
"Steve just loves to play. He loves to compete," Kubiak said. "When you get to that stage in your career, you see a few young guys and say 'Hey, this guy has a chance to be a pretty good player.'
"That's what I see from Steve. I see him responding. I think Steve sees that [these guys] have a chance to help our team and he's just out to help them all."
Smith is entering his 15th season in the NFL and will not only be an impact player on the field, but the impact he has on his teammates makes him an even greater signing for the Ravens this past off season.
The Panthers front office may have thought he's trash, but in Baltimore, Smith is out to prove he's a treasure.