Ravens WR Smith beats defensive backs, adversity

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Ravens WR Smith beats defensive backs, adversity

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) On game day, Torrey Smith is a whirlwind of dreadlocks, speed and big-play catches.

None of this provides a hint of the hurdles he had to overcome to become the deep threat the Baltimore Ravens needed to make it to the Super Bowl.

After helping his single mother raise six other children, a chore that included working after school as a teenager, Smith accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland. He played three seasons, scoring 22 touchdowns - including three on kickoff returns - before throwing his name into the mix for the 2011 NFL draft.

Smith was selected in the second round by Baltimore, and as rookie he quickly displayed the ability to get downfield although his inexperience resulted in several costly dropped passes.

Early this season, Smith ran sharper patterns and rarely let a ball slip through his fingers. But tragedy struck less than 24 hours before the Ravens faced New England on Sept. 23: Smith's younger brother, Tevin Jones, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Virginia.

Smith left the team to join his family, then returned to catch six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns to help Baltimore earn a 31-30 victory.

``Incredible,'' teammate Jacoby Jones said last week. ``I'm not sure many people could perform under those circumstances, let alone play so well. I really do admire him for that.''

Smith finished the regular season with eight TD catches and ranked fourth in the NFL with 17.4 yards per reception. In the second round of the playoffs, he twice burned standout cornerback Champ Bailey for long scores in the Ravens' 38-35 playoff win over top-seeded Denver. Smith then contributed four catches for 69 yards as Baltimore defeated New England 28-13 to advance to a Super Bowl showdown with San Francisco this Sunday.

Smith revealed after the AFC title game that several Patriots fans took to insulting him on Twitter.

``Played a lot of games since my brothers death and I never received as many rude tweets after a win than Sunday...yet NE fans cry about class,'' he tweeted.

Asked in New England how the Ravens emerged as conference champions despite being decided underdogs, Smith replied, ``It's who we are. That's what our city is, a tough city. You get knocked down, you've got to get back up. That's how life is. You just can't lay down and roll over. You've got to continue to fight.''

And so it is with Smith.

``We talk about the cauldron of competition and the fire that refines us. To me, Torrey is the perfect example of how the right kind of person is made of the right kind of stuff,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``He's one of those rare players where there is no agenda. He just wants to know what's expected of him, so he can do the best he possibly can. He's not trying to fool you, he's not trying to impress you. He's just trying to be himself.''

For Smith to be at his best this season, it was important that he moved on after his brother's death.

``That's life. That's so long ago,'' Smith said with shrug Saturday as he packed his bags for a trip to New Orleans. ``That happens to everyone. Someone has someone pass, and you've just got to move on. I'm just focused on playing football.''

When Smith opted to leave Maryland before his senior year, his coach at the time, Ralph Friedgen, wasn't sure if it was the right decision. Friedgen no longer has any doubt that the 6-foot, 200-pound speedster has what it takes to be great.

``I see his hands improving and I see someone very confident in what he does,'' said Friedgen, who was fired after the 2010 season. ``When you can beat a guy like Champ Bailey twice, that can only help your confidence. Around the league, everyone knows that to beat the Ravens, you have to stop Torrey.''

Before Smith arrived, Harbaugh was desperate for a receiver that could get behind opposing safeties. Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, T.J. Houshmandzahdeh, and Donte Stallworth did so on occasion, but Smith has seemingly made it a habit.

Although his 49 catches were one fewer than last season, Smith increased his yardage from 841 to 855 and had 16 catches of 20 yards or more.

``It's definitely a process,'' Smith said. ``I don't think I am surprised, because with hard work you expect to do well, and you expect to continue to get better. I never get complacent. I have a long way to go, and I'm trying to work each and every day to get there. Later, down the line, there will be some trouble.''

Friedgen has no doubt.

``Once we got him at Maryland, he hadn't played much at wide receiver,'' the former coach said. ``But I thought he had the physical tools to be very good football player, and I was right. There's a learning curve in the NFL, because defensive backs can stay with you like a shadow. But Torrey has overcome that, and I don't think he's finished growing yet.''

Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

RELATED: IN LATEST COMEBACK BID, RAVENS TE DENNIS PITTA'S CONFIDENCE NOT A PROBLEM

“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

MORE RAVENS: MIKE TOMLIN, ANTONIO BROWN GO TO PENGUINS PLAYOFF GAME

In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

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In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

Not everyone close to Dennis Pitta was immediately sold on his second NFL comeback attempt. Will his twice-fractured hip hold up? How much is Pitta risking his long-term health?

Pitta has pondered those questions for months. But after the first week of OTA’s, the Ravens’ 30-year-old tight end remained confident he had made the right decision.

“I had to convince a few people, and I’m thankful for those who have been in my corner all along and had my best interests in mind,” Pitta said. “Like I’ve said before, I know my situation better than anyone else, and I’m confident in the decision I made to come back, and certainly there were people who wanted to make sure that I was confident in that decision. I have a great support team behind me, and we all feel good about this move.”

Pitta first fractured his hip during training camp in 2013, then again on a non-contact play against the Browns in 2014. However, Pitta says he doesn’t think about his right hip when he’s on the field. He’s also not lowering his expectations, despite not playing at all in 2015, and not playing a full season since 2012.

Pitta was one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, catching 61 passes for 669 yards during the 2012 regular season, then adding 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns during the Ravens’ playoff run to a Super Bowl title.

Asked if he could return that level of play, Pitta suggested, “Why not?”

“No, my expectations haven’t changed from four years ago, to two years ago, to now,” Pitta said. “My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year. Like I said, I feel confident in how I can run, how I can move, how I can play and it’s just a matter of getting those reps back to where I’m confident in doing all of that. So, yes, expectations personally are very high.”

Pitta obviously wasn’t ready to end his career. If he is on the 53-man roster Week 1, it will be a terrific comeback story.

Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown go to Penguins playoff game

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Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown go to Penguins playoff game

If you didn't the the Pittsburgh Steelers enough already, this ought to help. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and receiver Antonio Brown decided to take in some hockey on Thursday and unfortunately, they were cheering for the local team.

On the one hand, what do you expect? They play for the Pittsburgh Steelers so it's no surprise to see them cheering for the hometown team. On the other hand, the Steelers are the team Ravens fans all love to hate so to see them supporting the chief rivals of the Washington Capitals, that stings.

Just one more reason to hate the Steelers this football season.

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