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In the Ravens’ 34-3 win over the Cleveland Browns last week, fans got a brief glimpse of what tight end L.J. Smith brings to Baltimore.
The oft-injured veteran took a short pass from quarterback Joe Flacco in the right flat and raced through Cleveland’s defense for a 32-yard gain (a 10-yard penalty on Mark Clayton actually made it a 26-yard gain, but who’s counting?).
“So there’s L.J.,” murmured several media members in the press box, me included.
Smith hadn’t been able to take the field yet this year because of a pesky hamstring issue. He’d been practicing, but the majority of that time is not open to reporters.
So when Smith strode through the secondary, it was a promising sign for Baltimore’s offense.
“He’s wanted to play, and he’s worked hard to do it,” said head coach John Harbaugh. “It’s good to have him back. He’s a guy that can be a force for us. He can play as a wide receiver. He can play as a tight end. He’s a really versatile guy and can play special teams. He’s going to be important for us.”
Smith, the former Philadelphia Eagle with two seasons of at least 50 catches for 600 yards in his career, was similarly thankful.
“That’s a great feeling I’ve been waiting for,” Smith told me. “I wanted to have a meaningful catch and not get hurt. I’m still a little rusty to game speed. I’ve got to work on my blocking. But I’m happy I could get in there and do something good for a win.”
I couldn’t see it from my high perch in M&T Bank Stadium, but apparently some of Smith’s teammates got after him as soon as he took the sideline following his catch.
“When he came off after catching that pass, a few guys were checking out his hamstring to make sure he was all right, having fun with him,” Harbaugh explained. “That’s how we do it – have a thick skin.”
I guess that’s one way to welcome Smith back to action.