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Smith practices with first team, preparing for first NFL start

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Rookie quarterback Troy Smith provided a much-needed spark for the Baltimore offense when Kyle Boller went down last week, nearly rallying the slumping Ravens to a victory over the Miami Dolphins.

With Boller still feeling the effects of a concussion that could keep him out this weekend against Seattle, the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State suddenly finds himself preparing to make his first NFL start.

"Confidence with me has never really been a problem because I don't have anything to prove," said Smith, who took all the snaps with the first-team offense Wednesday. "I don't have anything to prove to anybody, just the guys in this locker room and me getting better."

Boller was sent home following team meetings because he's still experiencing headaches and sensitivity to light after a violent hit delivered by Miami defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday during the 22-16 overtime loss.

Smith, a fifth-round draft pick, engineered a game-tying, 59-yard drive in the final seconds of regulation and helped position the Ravens (4-10) for a potential game-winning field goal in overtime. But kicker Matt Stover missed the 44-yard attempt, and the Dolphins scored on the ensuing possession.

"If it's still bothering (Boller) Thursday, I would probably go ahead and start Troy," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But we'll see how he feels Thursday."

Smith's enthusiasm, mobility and improvisational ability sparked a dormant offense, leading guard Jason Brown to call him "a breath of fresh air."

Smith doesn't lack for self-confidence, either, displaying the swagger that goes with passing for 54 career touchdowns and 5,720 yards with just 13 interceptions for the Buckeyes.

"What I bring to the table is somebody with an incredible passion for the game," Smith said. "I'm a passionate player."

Because of his personality, the Ravens aren't as concerned as they might otherwise be inserting a rookie into a veteran starting lineup.

"He's not going to be intimidated," Billick said. "He's been in a lot of big games, so I don't worry about that."

Wide receiver Derrick Mason, an 11-year pro, said Smith doesn't carry himself like a raw rookie. Rather, he's been making a strong impression ever since scrambling for a touchdown during his NFL regular-season debut against the Indianapolis Colts.

"Troy is a football player, and that's all I really care about," Mason said. "That's why he was considered the best football player in college football, that's why he won the Heisman and it's no different here. He doesn't flinch regardless of what the situation is. Against Miami, he came out there like he had been in the league eight, nine years and drove us down the field."

Smith's numbers aren't all that impressive. He's completed just 8 of 16 passes for 82 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, for a quarterback rating of 65.1. But something that can't be measured is the confidence that comes with having him under center.

"He's a talented young man," running back Willis McGahee said. "He can read, he can throw the ball. He can scramble, he can be elusive."

And he figures he has something to prove, after his last start didn't go as planned.

In the BCS national championship game against Florida a year ago, Smith was only 4-of-14 for 35 yards with an interception and a fumble. He was also sacked five times in the blowout loss.

"Stepping into this situation and getting a chance to play at the highest level, you have to have the highest level of professionalism, the highest level of being a man, being an athlete," Smith said. "I'll definitely be comfortable, hopefully. But you never know. I can't see into the future. I can't let you know how I'll feel on Sunday because I won't know until Sunday comes."

Notes: Besides Boller, several others were held out of practice: linebacker Ray Lewis (hand, back), cornerback Samari Rolle (shoulder), linebacker Gary Stills (knee), linebacker Terrell Suggs (thigh) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (thigh). ... Wide receiver Demetrius Williams (high-ankle sprain) was declared out. ... Center Mike Flynn (foot) and tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) were limited in practice.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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