Smith Wants to Silence Doubters

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Tight end L.J. Smith feels like he has been unfairly questioned during a five-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Now with the Ravens, the former second-round draft pick hopes to answer his doubters.

"I feel like I'm renewed, that I have a new spirit," Smith said Tuesday from Baltimore's training facility in Owings Mills, Md. "I feel like I'm in a place where I can hopefully reach my potential. People would say, 'Oh, he hasn't reached his potential, blah, blah, blah.'

"Hopefully, I can do that here and help this team get to a place we all want to be, and that's the Super Bowl."

Smith was a promising tight end out of Rutgers back in 2003, an athletic pass-catching phenom that the Eagles envisioned would be a perfect complement to coach Andy Reid's West Coast offense.

He began to deliver on that promise as he matured, hauling in 111 balls for 1,293 yards and eight scores from 2005-06 before injuries derailed his momentum.

Last season, Smith missed three games - one in Week 4 with a lower back sprain, one after suffering a concussion in Week 8 and the season finale with a hurt knee. The tight end turned in 37 receptions for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

Two years ago, a sports hernia and knee injury kept him out of a career-high six games.

All the setbacks made Smith's first journey into free agency a test, as both the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons hosted him without offering him a contract. But, he attests that they were also random occurrences, not lingering concerns.

"It was kind of nerve-wracking," Smith explained. "The last few years, I've dealt with injuries, which makes [free agency] frustrating. That was one of the red flags about me in the market. It's just something you have to deal with as a player.

"I always worked hard during the offseason for the regular season, so it wasn't about getting ready at all with me. They were just freak accidents. But, I'm here, and I'm in a good spot."

The Ravens believe Smith can - and will - make a major impact in their passing game, which ranked 28th in the NFL in 2008.

He knows that Todd Heap is already the established tight end in Baltimore. Quinn Sypniewski, who is returning from a season-ending knee injury, is the designated blocking tight end, while converted linebacker/defensive end Edgar Jones is also with the position group.

Tight ends coach Wade Harman is eager to get to work with his new charge.

"You try to find out what they do best and what they're good at," Harman said. "Then, you want to accentuate those things, while looking for areas where they can improve. You want to spend time now working on those things that he can improve upon.

"So far, our interactions have been good. I think he's anxious to get out on the field and show what he has."

Very true, according to Smith.

But, put both he and Heap on the same formation, and quarterback Joe Flacco has two weapons he can utilize in the middle of the field.

"I think that's why I'm here now," Smith stated. "I feel like I can add to this offense. I know there is a great tight end here in Todd Heap, but offensive coordinator [Cam] Cameron is going to put me in spots that are going to help the offense even more.

"Right now, it's not about me trying to take anybody's spot. It's about me trying to help this offense. I'm going to do whatever I can."

Head coach John Harbaugh, who coached for the Eagles from 1998-2007, agreed. He said he would like to see Flacco work more areas of the defense instead of regularly throwing to the sideline.

"Joe threw a lot of his passes to the outside last year, because he's got the arm to make those throws and because the risk [of interceptions] is a lot lower,'' Harbaugh told *The Philadelphia Daily News *this week from the NFL Owners Meeting. "But as he develops, we want him to throw a lot more inside. And we think L.J. can be a factor there. Plus, he's also got the speed to go deep."

Mere days after signing a one-year contract, Smith is training at team headquarters as part of the offseason conditioning program.

Smith already met with tight ends coach Wade Harman and Cameron, and is excited about what could be an explosive aerial attack.

At this point in the offseason, that group will not only feature Heap and Smith, but speedy wideouts Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton.

"With me and Todd, it's going to be lights out," Smith said. "Defenses will not know who to watch. It's kind of like a pick your poison kind of thing. You've got Clayton and Mason out there, and I think this offense is going to be fun to watch."

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