As we approach July, optimism season is in full force in the NFL.
Count Roquan Smith among the many who believe this is their year.
"I'm just excited to get out there and fly around with the guys, because I think we're in for something special," the Ravens linebacker said, via the team's official site. "And I think myself, personally, I think it's going to be probably my best year, at least the way I feel physically and mentally."
Smith has legitimate reason to be excited. He's moved past the contract dispute that prompted his trade from Chicago to Baltimore, receiving a new five-year, $100 million deal from the Ravens and returns as a key part of a defense built to win in 2023.
He's also operating with the luxury of time. This time around, Smith won't have to learn defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald's scheme, and his future in Baltimore is solidified. He's an important member of his team -- and he's ready to play with a vengeance.
"We want all the smoke, honestly," Smith said. "There's a lot of payback that we have out there. We'll get to it when we get to it, one week at a time."
Baltimore acquired Smith in the middle of the 2022 season, a campaign that included its own helping of adversity, starting with the loss of quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Ravens still found a way to reach the playoffs, but their loss to Cincinnati on Super Wild Card Weekend brought an unceremonious end to their season, leaving many feeling empty-handed.
Smith expects much more from 2023, a year that is expected to test the Ravens in a competitive AFC North and loaded conference. Baltimore will have to bring it every week, and with a defense that includes a blend of young playmakers and seasoned veterans, the Ravens have high hopes. There's no time for Smith to have mercy on opponents.
"Never scared. Wasn't born scared, wasn't planning to die scared," Smith said. "I think most of the guys on the defense live the same way. People may fear us, [and] we want to strike that. At the end of the day, we're coming out to take your heads off."