Troy Smith knows he still has a long way to go before becoming the same quarterback he was one month ago, when his bid for the Ravens' starting job was derailed by a rare tonsil infection.
But after joining his teammates on the field Wednesday for the first time since an Aug. 21 preseason practice, Smith is relishing the chance to compete wherever he can.
Smith donned his red quarterback practice jersey and set up under center for the "look squad," doing his best impression of the Ravens' upcoming opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Minutes into the session, Smith's No. 10 was seen bouncing around the backfield, a testament to his glee.
"He's proclaiming himself the 'best scout team quarterback ever,'" said wideout Derrick Mason with a laugh. "He's never short on words, but he looked good out there."
There is no timetable to when Smith can make a full return, as the former Heisman Trophy-winner still needs to gain more of the 20-plus pounds he lost when the illness restricted his ability to swallow.
Smith is also working on his conditioning and muscle memory after a blood clot in his jugular vein chipped off into his lungs, which made it difficult to speak and breathe.
Considering the seriousness of what team physician Dr. Andrew Tucker called a "flukey or unusual" situation, Smith is just happy to be off the couch.
"You take for granted, for example, being able to breathe on a consistent basis," Smith said. "That was taken away from me for a period of time, where I couldn't really breathe and couldn't really move the way I wanted to.
"Just to be able to be back out joking with the guys, being able to run and take deep breaths again… that means everything."
Smith had arguably the most impressive training camp in a quarterback competition that included him, Kyle Boller and rookie Joe Flacco. He was then given the chance to seize the first-string mantle in the Ravens' third preseason game against the Rams.
But one day before the 8:00 p.m. contest, Smith was found to have an infection in his tonsil, which rendered him unable to play. Smith was even kept away from teammates during the game, as Ravens officials originally thought the condition was contagious.
Upon his return from St. Louis, Smith made two trips to Union Memorial Hospital – first, for initial treatment, and then when the blood clots that had spread to his lungs caused severe chest pain later that week.
The main factors that got him through those trying times were Smith's teammates and family.
"It was totally a blast for me, while I was lying in my hospital bed, how many people came to visit," he said. "That meant everything to me, and that helped me get through the illness."
Things have changed over the time Smith dealt with his illness.
Boller landed on Injured Reserve when a right shoulder injury required surgery, which led to the signing of Casey Bramlet to the practice squad and Todd Bouman as the top backup.
By attending all the meetings in recent weeks, Smith is doing his part to assimilate himself into the new quarterback corps.
"Casey and Todd are two guys that I've only known for a couple of weeks, but it feels like we've been together since training camp and OTAs started," Smith said. "They've never tried to plug in and say, 'My role is this, my role is that.' It's pretty much the same feeling that it was before, but I miss Kyle.
"It was sad to see what he had to go through with his shoulder, and when a guy like that leaves, you miss his presence."
Smith does have the experience of starting two games last year, going 32-of-60 (53 percent) for 370 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also has the strong leadership qualities of a seasoned veteran.
Meanwhile, Flacco has asserted himself in the first two starts of his career, going 2-0 and playing solid football for an offense geared around a productive rushing attack.
Does Smith think about how that start from Day 1 could have been his?
Can he climb the depth chart before the season is over?
The 2007 fifth-round draft pick isn't worried about that just yet. In fact, he honestly supported Flacco as the starter.
"He's doing a tremendous job with the offense and getting us to where we need to be," Smith noted. "We've put him in situations where, supposedly, a rookie quarterback would not be able to handle it. He's done an incredible job. I'm rooting for him, because as of now, our success relies on him, and that's the way it's supposed to be."
It may have only been a few scout team passes, but each attempt Wednesday seemed like a breath of fresh air, especially for a player that could barely breathe not too long ago.
"My health is what's most important now," Smith said. "When you're lying in a hospital bed watching the sequel of *Predator *or *Terminator III *all day, you just want to get back to doing something."