While the Seahawks were on their way to another NFC championship last season, receiver Kevin Smith was back home in Southern California working a slightly less glamorous job than he might have hoped coming out of the University of Washington.
"I was working at FedEx at a warehouse unloading and loading trucks," Smith said. He then noted, "but I always felt like that was something temporary at the time, just something to keep me busy."
Smith doesn't have time for a warehouse job right now, because he is back with the Seahawks for his second training camp, and looking very much like a player who has a chance to stick around in the NFL for longer than three weeks of training camp this time around.
After going undrafted out of Washington in 2014, Smith first signed with Arizona, then after a brief stint with Jacksonville, he signed with Seattle, where he spent camp before being cut prior to the final preseason game. No teams called after that, so Smith went home, got a job, and kept working out knowing he would make the most of the next chance, wherever that might come. Smith was in talks with an Arena Football League team about a contract, but that deal was never finalized because the Seahawks called offering another shot.
Smith is part of a deep position group, and winning a spot on the 53-man roster, or even the practice squad, is far from a given, but he has impressed his coaches in his second go-around with the Seahawks. After two solid weeks of camp, Smith really caught Pete Carroll's eye in Seattle's preseason opener, catching two passes for a team-high 36 yards, including a very impressive catch on a ball thrown behind him across the middle of the field.
"Gosh, he sure did," Carroll said when a reporter mentioned Smith making some nice catches. "He had two great plays and good finishes on catches. It was really cool to see that. He has been really active in camp and done very, very well for us. The catch on the one behind him was a fantastic grab to hang on, and he got whacked, too, so a good showing."
Two days later, Carroll's take on Smith's game hadn't changed after watching film: "Kevin Smith played really well. Yeah, he had some really nice catches and tough plays that he made. It was cool to see him."
For Smith, it's nice that his coach is noticing his play, but he isn't letting that praise go to his head. If he is going to follow in the footsteps of fellow Husky Jermaine Kearse, who went from undrafted to NFL starter, Smith knows he has to focus on each practice, each meeting and each walk thru, and not worry about the nice plays he made a week ago or dream about what his future might hold.
"That's always a good thing coming from the head guy, but all I'm looking for is one day at a time," he said. "You can't worry too much about the future or looking back… I'm doing a better job taking it one day at a time now than I was last year."
The other change for Smith is easy enough to spot when you look at him up close—he has slimmed down quite a bit from playing at 225 pounds last summer. Smith said he was down to 197 pounds this spring, and carrying less weight is paying off in the form of more speed and agility.
"He was a little bit heavy last camp, and then he took his fitness very seriously," receivers coach Dave Canales said. "He slimmed down, he's explosive, he makes great plays on the ball, and his best attribute is that he's really reliable and consistent. He's been able to be versatile, he's just on his assignments, and he really works hard studying and knowing the system."
And like any young roster hopeful, Smith knows that making his mark on special teams will be just as important, if not more so, than anything he shows at receiver.
"Special teams is always a big key," he said. "A lot of people talk about offense and defense, but special teams is one of the biggest parts of the game. Special teams is a way to make the team, so that's a big emphasis for me. I played all four (return and coverage units) in college and I'm looking to make an impact here."
Whether Smith or fellow Husky Kasen Williams or any other young player on the bubble can do enough to make the team remains to be seen, but training camp No. 2 for Smith has gone very well so far. And hey, this summer job sure beats working in a warehouse.
A player-by-player look at Seattle's wide receivers ahead of the Seahawks' 2015 training camp.