When Thursday’s preseason finale rolls around, Marcus Smith will find himself in a familiar position - making a final attempt to try and secure a roster spot.
Now a four-year veteran, Smith has become a special teams standout in his time with the Ravens. The wide receiver’s size and strength has allowed him to become a quality gunner on punt coverage, and he’s been a key part of the Ravens’ kickoff units, as well.
The question now, as it was last year at this time, is whether the 2008 fourth-round pick has done enough during camp to earn a spot on the active roster.
“It’s put up or shut up time,” Smith said. “Show up. It’s year four. ‘You have no (career) catches, you haven’t played that much offense the last two years. It’s time to put up or shut up. Do you want to be a receiver? How good do you want to be?’ That’s how I feel now. It’s personal to me. I need to show myself that I can catch the ball after breaking records in college.
“It’s not necessary to deal with what everybody else is doing, it’s more just to prove to myself that I’ve still got it, I’m still getting better, and I still belong in this league and on this team. More than anything, this team. Not one of 31 other rosters, but this team.”
Because of the Ravens’ offseason and training camp additions at the wide receiver position - veteran Lee Evans, draft picks Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss and undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams - Smith has seen himself get bumped down on the depth chart entering his fourth year in Baltimore. He’s gotten minimal playing time on offense this preseason, and knows that his chances of contributing might be decreasing.
That’s why tomorrow’s game against the Falcons is so vital. Evans will not play because of injury and Anquan Boldin is unlikely to see much action, leaving plenty of reps for the rest of the Ravens’ wide receivers to try and impress the coaches.
While that time on offense is fine and dandy, if Smith is to make the Ravens’ roster, it will be largely because of his special teams play. While Torrey Smith and Doss have caught the coaches’ eyes because of how they could factor in at wide receiver, it’s Marcus Smith’s understanding of the special teams system which will work to his advantage as final roster decisions are made.
“I’m one of the few guys that have been here for four years, been in the same system, and seen how things change from year to year,” Smith said. “So I definitely feel like I’m one of the few guys that know exactly what they want from us (on special teams) and what it’s supposed to look like. I feel like every day I go out there, I put that on tape and show them that to reassure them and let them know, because you can never take for granted that they know you can do something.”
After seeing action in seven games during his rookie year, Smith tore his ACL during the preseason in 2009, ending his season before it began. He bounced back last year, making five special teams tackles in 14 regular season games, and he added a special teams tackle in the postseason, as well.
In reality, Smith knows that he’s likely competing with Williams, a rookie free agent out of Maryland, for one of the final spots on this year’s roster. Boldin, Evans, Torrey Smith, Doss and 2010 fifth-round pick David Reed have secured the top five wide receiver jobs. Now, it comes down to which receiver with special teams prowess will join that group and lock up a roster spot of his own.
Despite all that’s riding on tomorrow’s preseason finale, Smith says he won’t feel uneasy going into the game. Instead, he’s putting all the concerns about his future out of his head and just hoping to go out and prove that he’s worth keeping around.
“I can control what I can control, is basically how I look at it now, being that last year I saw them bring in David, and this year they brought in these guys,” Smith said. “I can’t control who they’re going to bring in, I can’t control who’s going to play where. All I can control is what I put out on tape and hope that it’s what they’re looking for. Beyond that, honestly, I don’t even worry about it. It’s water under the bridge, because at the end of the day, that’s just going to slow you down from what you want to do and what you have to do.
“As long as I put my best foot forward, that’s all I can expect, and that’s all I can want to do. So, for me now, it’s not more of an anxious or an anxiety thing, it’s just ... show ‘em.”