He’s still the same player who four years ago guaranteed a Steelers win in the week leading up to a key matchup with the 12-0 Patriots. Pittsburgh lost that game, partly due to a couple of touchdown passes Smith gave up, and even Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick took their respective shots at the then two-year safety.
The Patriots mild-mannered quarterback went face-to-face with Smith after one of his touchdowns, screaming who knows what at Smith, and post-game, the normally reserved Belichick said, “We’ve played against a lot better safeties than [Smith], I’ll tell you that.”
But that mishap hasn’t taken anything away from the sureness Smith still feels. Despite being an unrestricted free agent, Smith has plans to stay in Green Bay for next season, and he wants to make his mark on this group of Packers.
When asked about his free agent status on Wednesday, Smith was quick to respond that he has a tentative deal in place with the Packers for when the lockout ends. Smith couldn’t confirm any details, but he said he plans to “finish” his career with the team.
His reason for wanting to remain in Green Bay? Simple. He thinks this current collection of Packers could be in for a long ride of success.
“I want to stay because I think we could have a dynasty here if everyone has the same mindset,” Smith said. “If everyone believes in the same thing; it’s like (Charles) Woodson always says, ‘One mind, purpose, goal and heart equals championships.'”
It’s a far cry from his guarantee in Pittsburgh, but it’s clear that Smith believes that the Packers are in for more than just their one Super Bowl victory. And it’s also evident that Smith wants to be a bigger part of the next championship team. In fact, Smith went as far as saying he thinks he can start for this defense next season.
“I’ll help out on special teams, but I’ve put five years worth of time on that unit. The young boys have to prove themselves there. And it’s in every player’s thought process to start. Yeah, I plan on starting.”
You obviously can’t blame Smith for wanting to start, but is that a realistic goal on this Packers team?
Three-time Pro Bowler Nick Collins is a lock to start at one safety spot, and Green Bay has at least two other players—Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett—who could and likely will start opposite Collins.
Peprah started 15 games last season, including four in the playoffs, after Burnett was lost for the season due to a torn ACL in Week 4. Peprah played well in his absence, and the Packers re-signed him to a two-year deal before the lockout, but it’s also likely that the team will give Burnett a good shot at taking back the position if his knee is back to 100%. The Packers traded up to draft Burnett in the third round in 2010 and he flashed play-making potential during his limited rookie season.
Either way, it’ll be a long ways for Smith to rise up the Packers depth chart. Again, never lacking the confidence, Smith gave plenty of reasons why he could be a player that earns himself more time on the field next season.
“It’s a combination of things to get playing time. First, you have to be smart and know who you are working with on defense. But you also have to make the calls and just make plays. And I can do that all.”
Smith certainly has an extensive history in the Packers’ 3-4 defense, starting 14 games and appearing in 32 others for the Steelers from 2006-08, and he even spent a season with current Packers safety coach Darren Perry while in Pittsburgh in ’06. Obviously, the schematics of the defense shouldn’t be a problem for Smith.
But even with the X’s and O’s down and a good training camp, could Smith crack the starting lineup? The NFL is always unpredictable, but you’d have to think that’s an unlikely scenario given how talented the Packers are at safety. Even Smith was the first to admit how good this Packers defense is as a whole.
“Talent-wise, this is the best defense I’ve played on hands down.”
And don’t forget, Smith played in Pittsburgh for three seasons, including their Super Bowl winning year of 2008. That season, the Steelers gave up over 300 total yards just twice (once being against the Cardinals in the Super Bowl), and they were ranked No. 1 in both total yards and passing yards and No. 2 in rushing yards. James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and James Farrior were all named to the Pro Bowl and AP All-Pro’s. Needless to say, it was a bold statement.
“Now we just have to prove it,” Smith said. “They prove every year in Pittsburgh why they are the best. Now we have too.”
Will Smith be a contributing factor to a Packers defense that’s still “proving” their spot among the NFL’s best defenses? You never know. The coaching staff was obviously high enough on Smith that they traded back for him last season after cutting him before any games in ’09 were even played. His knowledge of the defense plays on his side, and Smith has actually intercepted seven career passes in just 19 NFL starts.
Yet even the most optimistic observer of the team will be quick to argue that Smith’s spot on the 53-man roster isn’t even guaranteed, and a combination of injuries would likely have to happen for Smith to get consideration for starter’s duty.
But despite the long odds, there’s plenty we can take away from Smith and his big plans for 2011.
Considering he hasn’t been a major contributor to a team since his time in Pittsburgh, Smith hasn’t lost any of the confidence from his younger NFL days, and there’s nothing condemnable about being a firm believer in yourself like Smith most certainly is.
And while he’s been bounced around from St. Louis to Jacksonville and back to Green Bay in recent years, he wants to be a Packer again next season. Even if he isn’t a starter, like he proclaims he could be, the Packers will have a safety with an unwavering confidence and the motivation to be eventually become one.
“I’ll earn my spot,” Smith said. “I always have.”
For Smith’s sake on this Packers team, let’s hope his eye towards the future is a little more clear than it was back in 2007.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2