<
>

Looking for Week 1 fantasy sleeper? An emotional Steve Smith a good bet

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. anticipates some extra excitement in Sunday's season opener after nine months recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

"I was talking to my wife on the way in [to the Ravens' facility], filled with emotions, trying to keep it in," Smith said this week. "I am trying to focus less on what is going on and more on the people around me and how I’m feeling with them.”

When it comes to starting off the season the right way, few have been better than Smith over the years.

In Week 1 games since 2005, Smith has averaged six catches for 90.8 yards. He has eclipsed 100 yards receiving in three of his past five openers. Smith has also scored seven touchdowns in his past nine Week 1 games.

The key this year is whether Smith will be at the top of his game after missing almost all of training camp and not playing in any preseason games. He's been pleased with how his body has responded to practice.

"You can’t just go from not playing to all of a sudden playing," Smith said. "That is what training camp is for -- for your body to adjust to the strenuous work ethic and workload that you have. When I was actually cleared, I never really said anything, but I was hurt. [My] hamstrings were tight, calves were tight. I was glad to kind of work myself into where I can really get going.”

Smith will look to exploit a Bills pass defense that allowed the ninth-most yards to wide receivers (2,819) last season. He needs 68 yards receiving to reach 14,000 for his career and 73 yards to pass Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton for 10th-most in NFL history.

"I have no reason to think that he won't play great," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's worked very hard, and he's a great player. Great players usually play great when they work hard. We'll just let it play out."

The Ravens have more options in the passing game with the signing of Mike Wallace, the return of Breshad Perriman, and the emergence last year of Kamar Aiken. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said that even the receivers will contribute by committee.

Smith sees the deeper receiver group as an opportunity to do other things on the field.

"You know you are going to get your plays, but you are also ecstatic to be able to clear it out and open it up for other guys," Smith said. "I go down and run a route to open it up for Mike [Wallace], and Mike catches it, then I’m on the hunt. I get to peel back on somebody and knock the [stuff] out of them."

This could also mark the final opener for Smith, who decided to delay retirement and return to the Ravens this season.

"I’m just excited to be with those guys who I was watching on the treadmill during my rehab," Smith said. "I’m watching through the window, hoping to get out there with the rest of the guys. Now I have the opportunity, and I’m excited about that.”