Former NFL quarterback Frank Gifford once said, “Pro football is like nuclear warfare. There are no winners, only survivors.”
If you ask current Baltimore Ravens quarterback Troy Smith if he agrees with that statement, I’m willing to bet he offers the affirmative.
Nobody said it was easy to make it as a quarterback in the National Football League, and as a matter of fact, I would argue it is the hardest position to play in all of professional sports, but that is another article for another day.
Anyway, back to Troy Smith.
It is a tough world out there in the National Football League, and the former Heisman Trophy winner can attest to that. It seems like just yesterday it was the 2006 college football season, and Smith and his Buckeyes were on top of the college football world.
The Buckeyes were a marked team that season, the unanimous favorite to win the 2007 BCS National Championship. Even with those lofty expectations on their shoulders, the Buckeyes went out and dominated nearly every opponent they faced, due in large part to the precise passing of Troy Smith.
The thing that separated Smith from every other player in the country that season was his uncanny ability to throw accurately on the run. Let’s take a look at some of his key throws that highlighted his ability to escape pressure in the pocket and still make something happen.
In the Penn State game, with the heavily favored Buckeyes only up 7-3 with 13:06 remaining in the contest, Smith takes the snap and looks for receivers while standing at his own 42-yard line.
He bounces backward and trails to the right side of the field, around the 50-yard line, where a Penn State defender forces him to spin back to the inside of the field.
He runs backwards four more yards, to the opposing 46-yard line, plants his left foot on the "O" of the Ohio Stadium turf, then begins his lengthy wind up before unleashing a hissing spiral that travels 60 yards through the air. The football hits receiver Brian Robiskie perfectly in stride in the middle of the end zone before he is immediately brought down from behind by a Penn State defender.
While the fans of Buckeye nation breathed a collective sigh of relief, Smith extends his arms outward, looks toward the Buckeye sideline, and races down the field, as if to say: “Come on guys, I had it in me all along.”
Smith made a plethora of dazzling throws look rather routine that season, which makes it even more amazing that so many people seem to have forgotten how good he actually was in 2006.
Perhaps his best throw came against Texas, when the Buckeyes traveled to Austin to face the Longhorns. The game was tied at 7-7 with 21 seconds remaining in the first half.
Smith calmly takes the snap at the Texas 36-yard line in the shotgun formation. He takes a step back to the 37, but then bounces back to the 36 to set his feet. He sets both feet, winds up, and sends a beautifully lofted, tight spiral through the Austin sky, where it begins to dive nose down when it nears the end zone.
Receiver Ted Ginn Jr. tracks the football from behind his head until it lands directly on his chest, right on the number seven of his jersey, nose up. Yet another touchdown for the Buckeyes, and yet another dazzling throw for Troy Smith to put in his Heisman resume.
Against the Indiana Hoosiers, Smith once again delved into his bag of tricks. Smith took the snap at the Hoosiers’ 28-yard line, on the right hashmark. He faked the handoff to Antonio Pittman and barely eluded the arm of a Hoosier defender by spinning back to the inside of the field at the 33-yard line.
He continued running to the left side of the field, being chased by three Hoosier defenders. He made it all the way to the left hashmark before he was forced to throw the ball off his back foot from the 30-yard line, with a Hoosier defender jumping in his face. The football zipped through the air and eventually found the awaiting arms of receiver Ted Ginn Jr. in the end zone.
Those are just a couple of examples of what was a seemingly endless display of dazzling passes for Troy Smith in the 2006-2007 college football campaign. He completed 203 of his 311 (65.3 percent) passes for 2,542 yards, while tossing in 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Those are simply stunning numbers by anyone’s standards, and they were good enough to earn him the most coveted individual honor in Division 1-A college football (Football Bowl Subdivision)—the Heisman Trophy.
Smith not only won the Heisman, but he also racked up an astonishing 86.7 percent of the first-place votes—a new record. His margin of victory (1,662 votes) was also the second largest in the history of the award, eclipsed only by O.J. Simpson who won by 1,750 votes.
The weird thing is what happened after he won the Heisman Trophy that made everybody forget about his spectacular season. He led the Buckeyes to a Big-Ten Championship, a BCS National Championship berth, an undefeated record, and a hard-fought victory over hated rival Michigan.
Those are all very impressive accomplishments folks, but in American society today, you’re either No. 1 or you’re nothing.
John Madden once said, “The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else.” Once you take a look at how the Buckeyes played in the national championship game, you will begin to realize why the former Heisman Trophy winner is truly the forgotten gunslinger.
The Buckeyes were completely embarrassed, as the Florida Gators throttled them before a nationally-televised audience—41-14. Troy Smith posted the worst numbers of his entire college career: he was four of 14 passing for 35 yards, threw an interception, fumbled once, was sacked five times, and was held to minus 29-yards rushing. It was a rough day at the office to say the least.
To Smith’s credit, he had absolutely no blocking in that game. Left tackle Alex Boone looked as if he had blocks of cement strapped to his cleats as Jarvis Moss continually beat him to the edge. He also was without his favorite target—receiver Ted Ginn Jr.—who left the game after the opening kickoff with a sprained left ankle.
After the national-championship embarrassment, it opened the floodgates for criticism of Smith and his game. A man that was the toast of the college football world for nearly the entire season was suddenly a nobody.
People began harping on the fact that Smith was only 6'0" tall, and that he was too short to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL. Many scouts argued that his release was too slow.
All of a sudden, the nation’s college football memory had been completely erased. Blanked. All those awards that Troy racked up—well, they didn’t mean a thing. Nada.
I was thinking to myself, “Scouts are saying this about the same quarterback that nearly took his team wire-to-wire in Division 1-A college football? The same Troy Smith that won the Heisman Trophy? The same Troy Smith that tossed all those remarkable throws in the 2006 campaign?” I simply could not believe my ears.
Fast forward to a year-and-a-half later, and the Baltimore Ravens’ starting quarterback job is nearly Smith’s to lose. In just his second NFL game as a starting quarterback, he led the Ravens to a victory over the Steelers in Week 17 (granted, the Steelers had pulled some of their starters for the playoffs).
He completed 16 of his 27 passes for 171 yards, while tossing in a touchdown and no interceptions. While everybody in the world has since decided to crown former Delaware signal-caller Joe Flacco as the Ravens’ quarterback of the future, Smith has been doing nothing but impressing folks in the Ravens’ camp and outperforming Kyle Boller.
According to an article written by Don Banks of cnnsi.com, Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has played a huge role in Smith’s development in the offseason. "Cam's very good at figuring out a player's strength, figuring out what he does well, and then tailoring the offense around those skills,'' an anonymous Ravens source said.
"He's got Troy moving around and doing a lot of the same things he had success doing at Ohio State.'' That’s the definition of an excellent OC right there—somebody who makes the playbook fit their quarterback, not the other way around.
You see, ladies and gents, Troy Smith was born to throw the football on the run. Very few quarterbacks on this planet throw the football on the move as well as Troy Smith. It is one of his many gifts from the genetic pool.
Everybody is given a certain talent in this world: some people draw beautiful paintings, some people can juggle, and some people might be able to shoot the breeze with anybody on this earth. Troy Smith just happens to be able to throw a remarkably accurate spiral down a football field when he is off-balance.
If the Ravens decide to put him in a moving pocket (like Cameron is reportedly doing), then they will be handsomely rewarded. You can go back to Smith’s highlights from his high-school days at Glenville, and you’ll see him running the bootleg with flawless efficiency.
Watch his highlights from Ohio State, and you’ll see his remarkable ability to improvise, escape pressure in the pocket, and toss a beautifully-thrown football on the move. It is truly a no-brainer to put him in a moving pocket, put some bootlegs in the playbook, and allow Smith to use his greatest asset—throwing on the run.
It’s amazing how one game can erase so many people’s memories of how good a quarterback truly is. This fall will be the time when Troy Smith, the “forgotten gunslinger,” refreshes the nation’s memory and claims the starting quarterback position for the Baltimore Ravens.
For once, we won’t be hearing about Kyle Boller, and we won’t be hearing about Joe Flacco and how he is the quarterback of the future, but instead, Mr. Bootleg himself—Troy Smith.