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Malcolm Smith preparing for anything that comes his way
The first question for Malcolm Smith after the Seahawks’ OTA session on Tuesday was going to be: How are you handling working at strong-side linebacker with the starting defense?
Smith answered the question before it could be asked by remaining on the practice field to work on getting past blockers and jamming receivers with fellow third-year linebacker Mike Morgan.
The additional work also was evidence of Smith’s consistency in his approach to being ready – and prepared – for any opportunity that comes his way.
“You have to approach it this way, especially when you’re doing something different and something new,” said Smith, who started three games on the weak side last season. “You have to spend that extra time to try to hone your craft and your skills, to make sure they’re ready to go when it’s time to.”
Smith, who was selected with a compensatory pick in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft, has been waiting his turn. But also taking whatever has come his way during the past two seasons.
As a rookie, he had 11 special-teams tackles to tie for second with Chris Maragos behind Heath Farwell, who led the NFL with 21. Smith also registered the first sack of his career in the Week 10 upset of the Baltimore Ravens.
Last season, Smith got his first three starts when now-unrestricted free agent Leroy Hill was injured. He also blocked a punt that Jeron Johnson returned for a touchdown in the Week 2 victory over the Dallas Cowboys and recovered a muffed punt to score his first NFL touchdown in a 58-0 romp over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14. He also had five tackles in a 42-13 victory over the eventual NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 and four in the 20-13 win over the St. Louis Rams in the regular-season finale.
When asked about the 6-foot, 226-pound Smith last season, then-defensive coordinator Gus Bradley would smile and offer, “Well, we’re a lot faster with Malcolm on the field.”
Speed always has been a difficult-to-overlook aspect of Smith’s game. He was a sprinter at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., with a personal best of 10.8 seconds in the 100-meter dash as a junior. At his Pro Day workout in 2011, Smith ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds.
But as Smith is continuing to show, while it’s one thing to get somewhere quickly, it’s something completely different to have the skills to make something happen once you arrive.
“Absolutely,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to make a play and get around people and move. We’re always working on that – in the training room, in the weight room and with the coaches. We’re just trying to get better at all levels.”
So you can answer when opportunity knocks. The Seahawks’ defense is filled with examples of how that can work – from All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, to Pro Bowl-caliber corner Brandon Browner, to outside linebacker K.J. Wright, to run-stuffing end Red Bryant, to Smith.
“Whenever you get your opportunity, you just want to be ready,” Smith said. “You don’t want to go out there and blow it, because you’re probably only going to get one, maybe two.”
Smith learned his patience – and knack for making the most of any opportunity – while playing for coach Pete Carroll and linebackers coach Ken Norton at USC. While with the Trojans, Smith was part of a linebacker unit that featured four players who were selected in the 2009 NFL Draft – Brian Cushing (15th overall by the Houston Texans) and Clay Matthews (26th by the Green Bay Packers) in the first round; Rey Maualuga (38th by the Cincinnati Bengals) in the second round; and Kaluka Maiava (104th by the Cleveland Browns) in the fourth round.
“You’d much rather be playing,” Smith said. “But the guys I played with at SC are really good. I got a chance to watch them and learn from them. It helped a lot. They definitely put pressure on us as a unit to be good and perform well.”
Norton has known Smith since his prep days at Taft, because he recruited him to USC.
“I’ve watched him grow, so I’ve got a lot of information on Malcolm,” Norton said. “He’s really fast. He’s really smart. He’s really confident. And, as you saw last year, he can be a weapon on the field.
“He’s a guy we’re really going to count on this year to use his speed and make a lot of plays.”
For now, that’s on the strong side – with Wright moving to the weak-side spot Hill played the past two seasons.
“Malcolm has the great combination of size and speed,” Norton said. “He’s in year three now, so he’s ready to really bust out as a player.”
Make that ready and prepared.