OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Roquan Smith carried out the linebacker drill to perfection, however he was requested to do it once more.
It was eight years in the past at a soccer camp in Bradenton, Florida, and Smith was a sophomore on the College of Georgia. He learn how the middle, guard and operating again had been shifting and took the correct angle to make the sort out. Then Baltimore Ravens Corridor of Famer and camp teacher Ray Lewis advised him to repeat it.
“That is the way you do it,” Lewis advised the opposite gamers, urging them to concentrate to Smith’s endurance, ft and imaginative and prescient.
That was the primary time Lewis crossed paths with Smith, however Lewis’ affect on the younger linebacker began lengthy earlier than that assembly.
When the Ravens (7-3) host the Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) on Thursday evening (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video), Lewis’ affect will likely be evident. One of many major explanation why Baltimore has spent the whole season in first place within the AFC North is as a result of Smith has change into the crew’s greatest center linebacker and chief since Lewis retired in 2012.
“He has a persona that’s just like my persona by way of the way in which you interact different folks to get them to play exterior of who they’re,” Lewis advised ESPN.
Smith has modeled his sport after Lewis since highschool. He watched a movie of Lewis and studied his motivational talks to attempt to match his depth.
Smith even purchased a deck of taking part in playing cards after listening to Lewis inform a childhood story about how he acquired fats by turning over playing cards. If it was a six, Lewis did six push-ups. If the subsequent card was an ace, he did 25 push-ups. Lewis continued this sequence of repetitions till there have been no playing cards left. Smith tried to do the identical factor as a youngster till he was gassed.
Now an All-Professional center linebacker, Smith produces flashbacks of Lewis by operating from sideline to sideline and operating a protection that, like when Lewis performed, permits the fewest factors within the NFL. And like Lewis, Smith offers impassioned speeches in the course of the remaining pregame assembly on the sphere.
“Truthfully, man, a few of the phrases sound like one thing Ray would say,” Smith mentioned.
Throughout Lewis’ 17 seasons with Baltimore, he elevated the requirements of these round him. Gamers mentioned they did not wish to make a mistake as a result of they did not wish to look Lewis within the eye afterward. The Ravens led the NFL in scoring protection (17.3) from 1999 to 2012.
It is change into the identical mentality in Baltimore within the 13 months for the reason that Ravens acquired Smith from the Chicago Bears in a bundle that included a 2023 second-round draft choose. Teammates say they do not wish to be the participant who does not match Smith’s power. With Smith on the middle of the protection, defensive sort out Justin Madubuike, security Geno Stone and linebacker Patrick Queen are all having profession years.
One of the best ways to measure Smith’s affect is thru what the crew calls “the Ro impact.” Within the eight video games earlier than buying Smith, the Ravens ranked twenty fourth in yards allowed (364.3) and twentieth in factors given up (22.9). Within the 19 video games since Smith took over, the Ravens led the NFL with fewest yards (280.8) and factors (15.2).
“For those who look across the league, there are solely a handful of leaders who can truly lead a crew to a championship,” mentioned Lewis, who led the Ravens to Tremendous Bowl titles in 2000 and 2012. “I believe Roquan is certainly one of them.”
ONE DAY AFTER After being traded to the Ravens on October 31, 2022, Smith requested to face and communicate throughout his first defensive assembly.
“Hey, I do know the tradition that Baltimore has constructed,” Smith advised his new teammates, “and I would like to have the ability to add to that.”
Smith respects Lewis, however he insists he needs to be himself and change into the very best linebacker he might be.
Smith has thus fulfilled Lewis’s dominance. He turned the primary participant since Lewis to document a minimum of 100 tackles, two sacks and an interception in every of his first 5 seasons. Smith and Lewis are the one linebackers to complete greater than 300 tackles, with 30 or extra for a loss over a two-year span.
It was finally yr’s Professional Bowl the place Lewis Smith talked about how he may proceed to enhance. Lewis was a coach and he made certain he sat with Smith on the bus rides from the lodge to the apply fields. He advised Smith he was extraordinarily irritated by what he noticed on movie as a result of not one of the Ravens defensive gamers had been talking to one another.
“The greats are remembered for the way in which they let everybody play subsequent to them,” Lewis mentioned. “So you must make sure that everybody sees what you see.”
Smith is called probably the most talkative man within the assembly rooms and within the locker room. For those who are available in drained, he wakes you up.
However Smith hadn’t taken that communication to the sphere earlier than his conversations with Lewis. On this yr’s season opener, Smith advised his teammates on the sideline, “Once I name certainly one of you all, be sure you repeat it to one another. A few of you simply take a look at me typically. So assist me I promise you recognize that this may make every thing run easily.’
UNLIKE Lewis, SMITH doesn’t have an extravagant dance throughout participant introductions at M&T Financial institution Stadium. Smith’s signature entrance is quieter throughout apply.
For the reason that begin of coaching camp, Smith has taken to the apply discipline by sprinting out of the crew facility and operating throughout two soccer fields to the place the linebackers are conducting their drills.
“It is simply my strategy to the day,” Smith mentioned. “[I’m] “I am simply completely satisfied to be there and excited and letting the blokes know day-after-day that I am able to assault the day with any means obligatory.”
Smith is simply as tireless in his pursuit throughout video games. His 14 hustle stops (which journey greater than 20 yards from snap to sort out) are the second-most this season, in accordance with NFL Subsequent Gen Stats.
Smith’s ‘by no means hand over’ perspective was mirrored in a 24-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans on October 15 in London. Whereas chasing a display go to operating again Tyjae Spears, Smith was pushed to the bottom by an offensive lineman on the Ravens’ 35-yard line. He instantly acquired again up and chased Spears from behind, bringing him down on the Baltimore 6-yard line to save lots of a landing. The Titans settled for a discipline purpose.
Roquan Smith teaches tape to children who play soccer.
By no means cease speeding, even in case you get knocked on the ass.
Roquan ran 63 yards to make a sort out and save a landing. pic.twitter.com/29OqM0vvQx
— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) October 16, 2023
Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald sought out Smith on the sideline to inform him, “That is probably the greatest performs I’ve seen in my life.”
Smith mentioned with a smile, “Once I was placed on my ass?”
McDonald responded, “And also you went and tackled the person.”
BY TRADE A second spherical choose to Chicago for Smith, Baltimore needed to wait a very long time for Day 2 of this yr’s draft.
“We do not have a second-round choose. Do I hate that? Sure,” DeCosta mentioned throughout a information convention. ‘However our alternative for the second spherical is Roquan. And I’ve to say, I do not suppose you will get a greater second-round choose.
“So I am actually completely satisfied that we do not have a second-round choose. Once I take a look at it, I say, ‘Man, we acquired actually fortunate.’ … Roquan is a drive multiplier. He elevates everybody else.”
The Bears drafted Smith with the eighth total choice in 2018. His team-high 122 tackles as a rookie helped lead the Bears to the NFC North title. His 139 tackles in 2020 had been sixth-most within the NFL and helped the Bears earn a wild-card berth, their remaining playoff look.
After failing to succeed in an settlement on a contract extension in the course of the 2022 offseason, Smith, who had no agent and was representing himself, publicly demanded a commerce on August 9. carry out (PUP) listing, and he didn’t take part in coaching as a hold-in till August 20.
On the time of the commerce, he led the NFL in tackles with 83.
Since Smith’s departure, the Bears have misplaced 16 of 19 video games.
In the meantime, the Ravens protection has given groups one or no touchdowns in 13 of 19 video games with Smith.
“In 10 years, no linebacker I’ve ever performed with has been higher than him,” exterior linebacker Jadeveon Clowney mentioned. “They do not have the perspective or depth they play with like Roquan Smith.
“He will get the very best out of lots of guys round him. When you could have a frontrunner like that, it is not simply going to be on Sundays, it is going to be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, all week lengthy.” …it displays on folks. It’s contagious.’
Smith grew up in Montezuma, Georgia, a city with out stoplights, which laid the inspiration for him to have a close-knit neighborhood.
Inside weeks, Smith knew the names of everybody within the Ravens facility, from the cafeteria employees to the gear workers. When Clowney signed with the Ravens this summer time, Smith was the primary participant to greet him.
Smith added his personal private contact to the locker room, introducing Join 4, his favourite sport that he is gotten fairly good at in the course of the pandemic. Quickly a number of gamers challenged one another and a event was scheduled.
However Smith is not afraid to name somebody out. In his first month with the crew, Smith attended a charity occasion that cornerback Marlon Humphrey missed.
Smith later spoke to Humphrey and mentioned, “Man, you by no means get to the belongings you’re presupposed to do.”
“I’d say he does not have any concern about how he is perceived,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh mentioned. “He understands what he values and what he believes in – his manner of doing it. And as a frontrunner, he isn’t afraid to say, “Hey, that is what I anticipate for myself,” and by extension, for everybody else. That is a giant drawback.’
If that seems like Harbaugh is describing one other former center linebacker who helped outline the Ravens’ identification as a defensive juggernaut, that is no coincidence.
“He is like a Ray Lewis to us,” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson mentioned.