PITTSBURGH -- The Heisman Trophy Troy Smith won at Ohio State in 2006 lays in storage somewhere in Cleveland.

The quarterback is hoping his career avoids the same fate.

Smith is trying to break back into the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who signed him in the offseason as an insurance policy during organized team activities and training camp.

The 27-year-old who dazzled while leading the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and a berth in the national title game during his senior season is now a journeyman trying to beat out established veterans Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch for a spot behind Ben Roethlisberger.

The odds are long. Time is short. Yet Smith hardly seems stressed.

"I've always had to do a little bit more," Smith said. "That's the only way that I've approached working. That's the only way that I've approached life. You get out what you put in."

Maybe, though Smith acknowledges this isn't where he expected to be at this point in his life. Selected in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft by Baltimore, Smith made the team and started two games, including a 27-21 win over the Steelers in the regular season finale.

The victory capped an otherwise miserable 5-11 season for the Ravens, who promptly drafted Joe Flacco the following spring. Smith welcomed the competition, but it was over before it barely began when he developed Lemierre's syndrome.

The illness starts as a sore throat then blossoms into an infection. In Smith's case, the disease attacked the pain receptors in Smith's lungs. A bout with tonsillitis followed and he dropped 45 pounds off his 6-foot frame.

Smith never did compete with Flacco for the job and when Flacco led the Ravens to the playoffs as a rookie, Smith was rendered a backup. Baltimore cut him after the 2009 season and Smith landed a spot in San Francisco.

He ended up starting six games, posting a 3-3 record while passing for 1,176 yards with five touchdowns against four interceptions. Solid numbers, but not enough to keep him from losing his job when Jim Harbaugh took over as coach.

The phone stopped ringing and Smith found himself taking a job with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. He started just one game, throwing for 191 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the Sacramento Mountain Lions.

Hardly Ohio State-Michigan.

Yet Smith doesn't consider his time in the UFL a setback, pointing out "guys want to take a quarterback's head off, no matter what league it is."

He did enough to earn a call from the Steelers, a team he grew up rooting against while growing up in Cleveland. There were other opportunities, Smith said, but the Browns weren't one of them.

When asked if he thought it was odd Cleveland didn't reach out considering the team's unsettled quarterback situation, Smith just shrugged his shoulders.

"They've been making decisions like that in the city for a long time, baffling decisions," he said.

The Browns addressed their quarterback needs in the draft by taking Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, who is actually a year older than Smith. He didn't take it personally, though pointing out the team "drives my mom crazy."

Smith is hoping for a little sanity in Pittsburgh, where he faces an uphill battle to make it to September. Making things even more difficult is the task of trying to decipher new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's playbook while working with the fourth string.

His travels as a pro have made him a quick learner. Whenever he gets into a new system, he simply hits the delete button in his brain.

"What you have to do literally is you have to take everything you know with one offense, let it go and start over new," Smith said. "That can be kind of nerve-racking at times, but that's football."

Smith understands trying to stand out will be difficult. During organized team activities on Tuesday coaches had to interrupt several plays with Smith under center to get skill players in the right spot. Not Smith's fault, exactly, but not the best way to win over the staff.

The Steelers are experimenting at the moment, with Smith at the forefront. Hey, somebody's got to do it.

"If I'm a guinea pig, so be it," he said, "but I'm a decent guinea pig."