It has been that kind of year for the Ravens, one challenge after another.
Knowing they will play the second half of the season without Steve Smith is the latest kick in the stomach for the Ravens. Nobody in the locker room was trying to pretend that losing Smith wasn’t a major blow following Sunday’s victory over the Chargers.
Smith is more than just the Ravens’ leading receiver. He is a leader – period. He practices hard, plays hard, leads with his actions, and leads with his words.
Smith and linebacker Terrell Suggs have side-by-side lockers at the Ravens’ practice facility. It’s going to be eerie for players, walking into that room and not seeing, or hearing either Smith or Suggs – both lost to season-ending Achilles injuries.
The bye comes at a good time for the Ravens (2-6), giving them extra time to exhale before their Nov. 15 home game against the Jaguars. Kamar Aiken is now the No. 1 receiver on the Ravens’ depth chart. While he won’t be hearing Smith’s voice at practice, Aiken is vowing to remember his words.
“He’s always told us to keep pushing,” said Aiken. “That’s what he’s embedded in our heads. Even though he wasn’t around us at the end (Sunday), we feel like he was with us. A little bit of him is in every one of us.”
Smith’s presence transcends the offensive side of the ball. Ravens defenders feed off the intensity Smith brings to practice, and admire his toughness.
“Steve is the toughest person I know,” said defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. “He’s the toughest person I’ve ever seen in my life. The dude’s tough as nails. I just pray everything works out for him. We’re definitely going to keep fighting for him until he gets back.”
But that’s another thing. Will Smith ever come back? He is 36 old. He had already said that 2015 would his last season. If he decides to keep playing, rehabbing is going to be a long challenging road, one that Smith will surely attack head-on if he decides to come back.
Smith’s future will be revealed whenever he makes a decision. But for the Ravens, losing Smith will be another test of resiliency, in a season that has been full of tests.
“It’s very disheartening to be honest with you,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith. “He’s a big-time leader on our team – just the way he competes and plays. His presence alone is huge for us. To see him go down, one of our top warriors, it’s a big deal but we haven’t caught any breaks all year. This is another one, so we have got to rally.”