The knock on Torrey Smith coming out of college was that he wasn’t able to run the full route tree at a high level.
Smith’s speed allowed him to excel on vertical routes, where he could blow by his defender and make a play deep down the field. But the other routes that receivers need to be able to run at the NFL level - the deep-outs, the digs, the comebacks - were a work in progress for the Maryland product.
Lately, we’ve seen improvements in that area.
Two of Smith’s three catches in last week’s win over the Texans came on a five- and a six-route (also known as the deep-out and the dig, or in-route). The Ravens’ rookie wide receiver then used that blazing speed later in the game to beat two Texans defensive backs down the field for a 51-yard reception.
“I think (the growth) has been obvious,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “Everybody can see it. You can see that he can see coverages now. He’s not getting surprised by coverages. He’s pushing the defense, he’s playing fast. I think you can see the mental growth.”
The cynical fans among us might ask why an NFL receiver is still having to learn the route tree at 22. One answer that could be given to said cynical fan is that Smith has far less experience at the position than the average NFL wideout.
A versatile athlete in high school, Smith saw most of his time at quarterback, and wasn’t shifted over to wide receiver full-time until getting to the University of Maryland. Now in his fourth year as a receiver, the Ravens’ second-round pick has benefited from plenty of one-on-one instruction at the NFL level, and says he’s starting to see improvements in his game on a week-to-week basis.
“It’s really just technique,” Smith said. “I haven’t been playing receiver too long, and technique is key to everything. I’m being coached up on it and it’s starting to translate over.”
Tonight against the Jaguars, Smith will get yet another start (his fourth straight) as fellow wide receiver Lee Evans sits with an ankle injury.
Since stepping into the Ravens’ starting lineup, Smith has made nine grabs for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He’s caught his share of deep balls, but the other stuff - the intermediate routes and the wide receiver screens - are starting to factor in, as well.
While Smith was initially slotted in as the Ravens’ third wide receiver, his time as the team’s No. 2 receiving option with Evans out has been invaluable. He’s becoming more comfortable with quarterback Joe Flacco, and appears to be finding a bit of a groove in an increasingly pass-happy Ravens offense.
“Obviously the more time you get with one another, the more chemistry you’ll have,” Evans said of his relationship with Flacco. “For us, luckily we’ve gotten good work in in practice, and it’s starting to translate to games.
“My route running is getting better all the way around. For me be able to go vertical, having the ability to stop the route and come back or run the route tree vertically and horizontally, is something that will benefit our team.”