If Roquan Smith were a preacher instead of a linebacker, he’d still be filling the seats every Sunday. Even if he didn’t tackle, the man still can talk.
A week ago, it was Smith comparing the Ravens’ road game at the Dawg Pound to “going over to beat their tails in front of their wife and kids.” After delivering on that, this week’s message is a reset of sorts. He’s resting his Ravens credentials on beating Pittsburgh on the road.
“I remember last year. You’re not a Raven until you beat the Steelers,” he said Wednesday. “I carry that over into this year, as well. I feel like this season is a totally new season, so I’m not a Raven this season until I beat the Steelers. That’s my mindset.”
One of Smith’s powers is finding ways to stay hungry, warping reality to keep his edge. Because the reality is that obviously Smith is a bona fide Raven. He was as soon as he walked in the door less than a year ago.
When asked about his pot-stirring linebacker, coach John Harbaugh thought of another Smith — former receiver Steve Smith Sr. He once said, according to Harbaugh: “I was born a Raven; I just didn’t know it until I got here.”
Harbaugh called him “a catalyst.” The Ravens’ defense without Roquan Smith is like a stovetop without a pilot light. You can’t be “cookin’ with grease” without him.
How do the dwellers of the savanna know to live in fear of the lion unless they hear it roar? Smith is that roar.
It’s telling that it has been less than a full season and Smith already seems indispensable. After making the All-Pro team last season, he’s Pro Football Focus’ top-graded linebacker in all of football at the moment, and he and Patrick Queen have created a formidable tandem that has helped make up for numerous secondary and edge rusher injuries.
It’s telling that the Chicago Bears — who punted on Smith after contract negotiations stalled — have not won a game since trading him. The franchise has more problems than missing a great inside linebacker, but it has allowed an average of more than 33 points in the 14 games since sending him off.
Thanks, Chicago. Baltimore is happy to pick up the tab.
Lamar Jackson has been one of the Ravens getting a kick out of Harbaugh’s slip of calling Smith “Rohan,” but even practicing on the other side of Smith is no joke. Jackson has the luxury of not getting tackled by Smith, but he can understand how hearing the 26-year-old shouting out plays from across the line of scrimmage can rattle other quarterbacks.
From the moment Smith arrived, Jackson recalled, it just seemed like the defense … tightened up.
“Everyone was playing fundamentally sound – speed to the ball,” Jackson said. “He’s like a Ray Lewis for us.”
That’s big talk around this town. But there are at least a few common traits between two undersize, physical backers who can stir up the competition with their words and their hits. Smith may not be Lewis — who is? — but he’s a spiritually similar player, giving verve and voice to the Ravens’ defense.
The Hall of Famer himself invited some comparison during a sit-down with NFL Films when the two watched film. Lewis praised Smith’s fundamentals, his footwork and block shedding. At one point, Lewis purred: “Ain’t too many left: hunters. And, when I watch Roquan, I’m like, ‘That’s a hunter.’”
There’s not realistically any more endorsements to earn. As much as Smith feels the need to keep chasing, he’s now in a position to show others how things work around here. Newcomer Kyle Van Noy, a veteran in his own right, said Smith and Queen have helped him adjust a lot.
Harbaugh has coached plenty of great linebackers in his time, including Lewis, and he can’t help but admire the unique way Smith operates.
“He’s relentlessly chasing every detail of his craft,” Harbaugh said. “And he does it with an enthusiasm and a demeanor and a confidence that you pretty much — you respect it when you see it, that’s for sure.”
Try telling that to Smith this week. He’s already locked in on the next thing to chase.
“I take great pride in being a Raven,” he said, “so I want to make sure I earn that right, as well.”