‘THE BULLY IS BACK’

Steve Smith re­turns for Ravens

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JOR­DAN SCHATZ jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com Fol­low Jor­dan Schatz on Twit­ter: @Jor­dan_Whig

OWINGS MILLS — Steve Smith Sr. has re­turned.

Less than 24 hours af­ter it was an­nounced by the team that he passed his phys­i­cal, the Bal­ti­more Ravens stand­out wide re­ceiver was seen mak­ing plays and jaw­ing with team­mates on the prac­tice field at the Un­der Ar­mour Per­for­mance Cen­ter on Thurs­day.

“It felt re­ally good. It was the first day of prac­tice, so it was good,” Smith said. “[It was] a light prac­tice, so I’m start­ing it slow and easy and build­ing from here.”

Thurs­day rep­re­sented the lat­est step for Smith in his re­turn to the grid­iron. The 37-year-old missed the fi­nal eight games of last sea­son, May and June off­sea­son work­outs and al­most all of train­ing camp af­ter he rup­tured his Achilles on Nov. 1.

He made his prac­tice de­but wear­ing gray shorts and a pur­ple jersey with the fa­mil­iar No. 89.

“The bully is back. That’s all I have to say,” Smith joked. “Va­ca­tion is over for the DBs.”

Smith, who in­tended to re­tire at the end of last sea­son, an­nounced af­ter the in­jury that he would re­turn in 2016. The five-time Pro Bowler ex­pe­ri­enced a pro­duc­tive sea­son in 2015, haul­ing in 46 passes for 670 yards and three touch­downs over seven games. He cur­rently sits just 39 catches shy of 1,000 for his ca­reer.

On Thurs­day, Smith was seen run­ning routes and haul­ing in passes. Dur­ing po­si­tion drills, he pro­duced a high­light-reel catch when he made a one-handed grab near the back of the end zone af­ter cut­ting past fel­low re­ceiver Ka­mar Aiken, who was fill­ing the role of cor­ner.

“I re­ally came back not to re­ally set any records, but more be­cause this or­ga­ni­za­tion gave me an op­por­tu­nity. When I got hurt, I felt like I let those guys down in the locker room,” an emo­tional Smith said. “For me to come back and play, it’s to show that I am de­pend­able and that they can de­pend on me, and to show [the me­dia] that at 37 years old, I can still play. I in­tend to lay ev­ery­thing out – not for my­self, but for the peo­ple who be­lieve in me and the peo­ple that in­vested in me 16 years ago [and] for the peo­ple that thought that I was only go­ing to be here for a minute.

“This is just a chance for me to say ‘thank you’ to them by fin­ish­ing what an or­ga­ni­za­tion al­lowed me to start,” he added. “That’s why.”

Smith is the lat­est high­pro­file Raven to hit the prac­tice field af­ter a long pe­riod away. Former De­fen­sive Player of the Year Ter­rell Suggs re­turned to train­ing camp ear­lier this week for the first time af­ter suf­fer­ing an Achilles in­jury dur­ing last year’s sea­son opener.

Both are ex­pected to play in the reg­u­lar sea­son opener against the Buf­falo Bills on Sept. 11.

“It feels good,” Suggs said. “It just feels like ev­ery­thing that we lost last year, we are get­ting it all back. All of us are back out here prac­tic- ing. Now we are get­ting our swag back and our chem­istry. Ev­ery­thing is start­ing to feel good, and now we are start­ing to feel like the Ravens again. It is key; it is big. It goes a long way for mo­rale, too.”

Even Ravens head coach John Har­baugh had lit­tle prob­lem find­ing Smith on the prac­tice field.

“I saw him when I was stand­ing next to [run­ning back] Justin Forsett, and it’s a walk-through, but [Smith] snatched the ball and like shoved it in some­body’s face. I looked at Justin [and said]: ‘He’s back,’” Har­baugh said. “He’s def­i­nitely out there, and he’s en­joy­ing it. He was go­ing, I would say – I don’t know – maybe a lit­tle stir crazy in the train­ing room. I think he wanted to get back out on the field and get go­ing again.

“I just let it play out,” Har­baugh con­tin­ued. “We just let it play out the way it played out, and he’s back.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JOR­DAN SCHATZ

Bal­ti­more Ravens wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. makes a one­handed catch in the back of the end zone dur­ing train­ing camp prac­tice at the Un­der Ar­mour Per­for­mance Cen­ter on Thurs­day. Smith re­turned to the foot­ball field for the first time since suf­fer­ing a sea­son-end­ing in­jury last Novem­ber.

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