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Now Ravens Have To Find A Way To Fill Steve Smith's Void


Steve Smith Sr.'s legendary career is over, giving him the opportunity to enjoy a pool side cabana during training camp or Disneyland trips in September. He'll be making tough decisions, such as eating a pint or gallon of ice cream.

The Ravens, meanwhile, now have much more pressing matters.

They must figure out a way to not only offset the loss of a potential Hall of Famer, but to get even better. If the Ravens offense is going to improve in 2017, it must make even more big plays.

"Whenever you lose a great player — he is one of the all-time great players — [you] are going to have to fill the void," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Guys are going to have to step up, and we're going to have to find a way to be better next year."

Even at age 37, Smith was one of the Ravens' biggest playmakers. Despite missing two game with an ankle injury, he led the team in receiving touchdowns with five. He was second on the team in receiving yards (799), third in receptions (70) and third in targets (103).

When the Ravens needed wins down the final stretch of the season, they turned to Smith. He scored a key touchdown at the end of the first half versus the Philadelphia Eagles and caught seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But Smith was more than just big plays and stats. He was a fiery leader that elevated the game of everyone else around him. His competitiveness was infections, teammates said. Opponents feared him and defensive coordinators game planned him.

"Reality is going to hit us at some point that we don't have him on the field anymore and to be able to be the guy that he is on Sundays," quarterback Joe Flacco said after Sunday's season-ending loss.

So how do the Ravens try to replace Smith?

Nobody will be able to be the kind of person he was. Just like legendary linebacker Ray Lewis, Smith was one of a kind. The Ravens will look to replace and increase his production, however.

As far as in-house options, the Ravens will return veteran Mike Wallace, who posted 1,017 receiving yards, 72 catches and four touchdowns. It was a bounce-back season for Wallace, who hadn't posted 1,000 receiving yards since 2011.

Baltimore will also have Breshad Perriman, who will be entering his third season. After missing his entire rookie season because of a knee injury, Perriman's health was the biggest question mark entering the year. He answered that by playing in all 16 games.

However, Perriman didn't have major production. He caught 33 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns, serving mostly as the team's No. 3 receiver.

Kamar Aiken, who was the team's leading wide receiver in 2015 with 944 yards, fell down the depth chart and got limited opportunities. He made 29 catches for 328 yards and one score. Aiken is a player who could grow his role to seemingly make up for the loss, but he may not be on the team. Aiken is slated to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Michael Campanaro is a smaller slot receiver that could fill Smith's position, and he came on late in the season after getting healthy, being re-signed and promoted from the practice squad, but he didn't catch a single pass. He ran three jet sweeps for 72 yards. Campanaro still needs to prove he can stay healthy for long stretches of time.

Fourth-round rookie Chris Moore caught seven passes for 46 yards this season, as he got most of his opportunities on special teams. Moore showed a knack for making plays on special teams, as he scored two touchdowns and pounded on a fumble in New England, but he still has a way to go to prove he can do the same on offense.

"Nobody has to do anything spectacular; we've just got to go to work and get better and better each day," Flacco said. "We have guys that can step in and do the job and they don't have to be Steve Smith. They just have to be themselves, and that's the most important thing."

The Ravens could also add new blood via free agency or the draft.

Some of the top options in free agency are Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and Washington Redskins receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

The top wide receivers in this year's draft class are generally believed to be Clemson's Mike Williams, Western Michigan's Corey Davis, Washington's John Ross and USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Those are options that will be explored in the coming months. For now, the Ravens are still coping with not having No. 89.

"It's tough," Flacco said. "What a competitor, what a player. He did so many things for this team. It's definitely a tough reality."

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