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Focus on: Malcolm Smith
Asked about Malcolm Smith, Pete Carroll offered, “He’s been with us since he was in eighth grade, it seems.”
Does that make the 24-year-old Smith a common-law player? No, just a versatile one who has done everything asked of him, and then some, since being selected with a compensatory pick in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
As a rookie, the 6-foot, 226-pound Smith played primarily on special teams and had 11 coverage tackles to tie safety Chris Maragos for second on the club. Last season, Smith started three games at weak-side linebacker and turned in two of the season’s bigger special teams plays – blocking a punt that Jeron Johnson returned for a touchdown and then scoring one by recovering a muffed punt.
Now, he just might be playing his way into the starting linebacker spot on the strong side.
“He has tremendous athleticism. His speed shows up all the time. He’s a playmaker. He’s real smart in our system. He’s versatile. He’s doing a great job on special teams, too. He’s a real strength of that group because of his versatility and exceptional coverage ability.”
All of that was on display during Monday’s practice when, on back-to-back plays, Smith arrived at quarterback Tarvaris Jackson before he could release a pass and then forced a fumble with a solid thump on rookie running back Spencer Ware.
The coaches have other options at strong-side linebacker. Bruce Irvin, last year’s first-round draft choice, has been playing there and will see extensive action in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink Field before he starts serving a four-game suspension. O’Brien Schofield, who was claimed off waivers in July, has played there, too, But Schofield also is playing Leo end because incumbent starter Chris Clemons in completing his rehab from knee surgery and free-agent addition Cliff Avril is out with a hamstring injury.
But the coaches know with Smith that they’ll get everything he’s got on every play. Even when making the transition to the strong side.
“It was a big move for him to go to the end of the line,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Tuesday after practice of Smith now being at the end of, and closer to, the line of scrimmage. “He’s always played behind the ball. So we challenged him.
“You really couldn’t tell in the OTAs (this spring) just because of the style of we play. Now that the preseason has been here, and he’s playing in pads and against tight ends and fullbacks, he’s done a good job of that.”