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Ravens wideout Marcus Smith believes the knee injury that ended his 2009 campaign before it even started will be 100 percent by training camp.
Energized by two major additions to the receiving corps – with sights of first earning a special teams spot – Smith is doing everything he can to get back on the field as soon as possible.
"I'm not cleared to sprint or anything, but I'm comfortable running," Smith said. "The strength is there, but it's sometimes sore after a long day of working out. Other than that, it's feeling really good. The lateral movement and explosion are the main things that I have to regain.
"I can't dunk a basketball yet, and I said I won't really be back until I can do that. It's come a long way over the last six weeks."
If he returns to full strength, Smith could move up the depth chart with a strong showing at training camp.
"I think [the Ravens are] trying to win, it's that simple," said Smith. "I can't get mad at that. I think both Stallworth and Anquan Boldin will contribute to the Ravens and make us better. I really believe that. But at the same time, it's a direct challenge to me.
"Coming off an injury, I have to gain my spot back. I have to prove to myself and the team that I can come back better than ever. I've got five months until training camp, so my main goal is coming in to training camp in shape and even more fit than I was last year."
Before his injury, Smith was projected to be a valuable special teamer. At a physical 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Smith was a talented gunner, notching three special teams tackles in five games as a rookie.
And with a promising sophomore offseason and early training camp, Smith even made a bid for Baltimore's fourth receiver spot.
Unfortunately for Smith, his knee injury in the Ravens' 2009 preseason opener relegated him to the clubhouse.
"It was an unfortunate time," Smith said. "I felt good where I was going and where we were going as a team. To wait a whole year when your teammates are playing is no fun."
Now, Smith feels he leaps closer to the rim on Baltimore's hardwood half court (housed in the team training facility) each day. Whether it is shooting hoops with other players or doing plyometric exercises with the Ravens' trainers, Smith said he is witnessing results.
"I need my leg pushing my body around and not just weight when I'm lifting," he continued. "I lost a lot of the muscle memory after not doing anything for six months. That's one of the hardest things, but I just have to push it."
The Ravens are going to be patient with Smith's rehab, in addition to the knees of Washington and Webb. Smith may have somewhat of an advantage over the two corners because his injury occurred last August.
"We have to ease them through the [Organized Team Activities] and get them doing football-related movements," said head coach John Harbaugh* *of the trio of knee injuries. "That will be important in May and June. Then, we can start them out on [the Physically Unable to Perform list] at training camp and see how far they are.
"To me, it's not just being able to play. It's being able to play where you're not going to reinjure yourself and play winning football. There are a lot of little battles on the field, and we're not just going to throw someone out there until they can win for us."
Where Smith sees his immediate battle is on special teams, especially with Boldin and Stallworth in house.
It is the path most young players take to the turf, on that Smith is determined to traverse again in his third year.
"I feel that my biggest contribution at this point is going to come on special teams, knowing that the new guys could be here for the next couple of years," Smith said. "This is my second full offseason, where I know my role a little bit more going into training camp. My mentality is that those guys are ahead of me, and I have to take it from them.
"I can prove that."