‘THE BULLY IS BACK’
Steve Smith returns for Ravens
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.”
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.