By: Steve Balestrieri
New Patriots Defensive End Will Smith is in uncharted territory as far as his NFL career goes. He’s with a new team after spending 10 years with the New Orleans Saints (2004-2013) before signing with the Patriots this spring.
Smith suffered an ACL injury during the pre-season last summer and missed all of 2013. A new defensive system with the Saints left Smith on the outside looking in but rather than calling it quits, he’s trying to come back from a serious injury at 33, and opted to continue his career. The Patriots were happy to oblige.
“I’m excited. I’ve played football the last 15, 16 years. Last year was a little tough not being able to be out there and play because I was hurt, but it’s exciting to be back in OTAs and now in minicamp, being a part of stuff,” said Smith.
There were many teams interested in Smith but he said he was comfortable with the choice of New England. “There were other teams but this was the place I thought I felt best with… I think it is a good fit here,” Smith said. He added that the familiarity with both New England’s coaches and players made the decision an easy one.
If Smith is healthy, he won’t be looked at as a starter but a part of the rotation to spell defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones who played in over 95 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013.
Smith could be an extremely valuable piece in the Patriots sub-packages playing at the defensive end position. While most project him to be the five-technique for the Pats when Jones moves inside, an intriguing option may be for Smith to bump inside where his size 6’3,282 is similar to that of new DL Dominique Easley.
But for now Smith has been a limited participant as the team takes its time with him, allowing him to fully heal from his injury. Smith told the media on Wednesday that his knee is near 100 percent and has been playing more from the left side than the right, which was his normal position.
“It’s not that different. The last couple of years I’ve been bouncing back and forth between right and left. My preference is to play on the right, but if I’m needed on the left I’m able to play both sides,” Smith said.
Asked about what his role could be in New England Smith said, “there are many roles here, we haven’t really discussed it.” Smith said he feels comfortable playing in a 3-4 as well as a 4-3 defense stating the Greg Williams (NO defensive coordinator) utilized some of each as well.
Smith stated his passion for the game has not diminished saying, “Football is something that I love doing. I love going out and competing. Love playing on Sunday.”
“As long as I have the drive and ambition and still want to go out and compete each day and win, as long as I want to win, I’m going to be out there playing.”
I play for myself as well as my family and my teammates. It’s something that everyone wanted me to go back and do and I wanted to do and I’m excited about doing.”
Smith doesn’t have the burst of an Easley or Jones but he did flash a bit during practice, albeit without pads, blowing past rookie Cameron Fleming on one play.
Asked about joining a defensive line with Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly as well as Jones and Ninkovich, Smith said, “I think we’ll be awesome.”
If he can still contribute, the Patriots and Bill Belichick envision Smith in the kind of Andre Carter/Gerard Warren role. That of an aging veteran who added years to the back end of his career by taking on a supplemental but quite valuable role.
He’s saying all the right things and appears to be healed up well, once the pads come on and the daily grind of training camp begins will be a big test for not only Smith, but for Wilfork and Kelly as well. All three are coming off of serious injuries.
If all three are good to go, Smith’s projection of the defensive line may be spot on.
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