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Ex-Steeler a safety net

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Associated Press
June 11, 2009
— Players don’t win NFL jobs during voluntary, non-contact practices in June.

That said, it certainly doesn’t hurt


“He was the furthest ahead of anybody when we started this process,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. “He looks very natural out there. He’s an athletic safety. I can see why people were as high on him as they are, and I think he’ll definitely factor in our safety group.”


Smith has been practicing with the No. 1 defensive unit as Bigby recovers from last season’s lingering injuries and Collins, who is believed to be unhappy with his contract, deals with family issues.


“We’re missing a couple of our guys right now, so this is an opportunity to showcase your ability,” said Packers secondary/safeties coach Darren Perry, who previously coached Smith in Pittsburgh.


Smith’s main strength from the Packers’ perspective is his familiarity with the 3-4 defense. While the switch to the 3-4 is a major change for defensive linemen and linebackers, it also affects the safeties; in Capers’ version of the 3-4, the line between the traditional strong and free safety positions isn’t as well-defined as it is in other defensive schemes and safeties are required to switch assignments on the fly.


Smith appreciates the chance to play with the first team, but doesn’t seem to think of the voluntary practices as his big chance to show coaches what he can do.


“They already know what I can do, that’s why they brought me here,” Smith said. “You know, with those guys being out, obviously I’m getting a lot more reps with the ’ones.’ But that not only helps me, but it helps everybody else.”


The chance to play in Green Bay represents a fresh start for Smith, who was a third-round pick out of Syracuse in 2006 and started a total of 14 games in his first two seasons. But Smith fell out of favor with Pittsburgh’s coaches last season and didn’t start a single game.


“I think he’s learned a lot from what took place in Pittsburgh,” Perry said. “He came in with a lot of potential and had some success right away. I don’t want to say (he) got complacent, but I think he’s realizing now that you can’t take anything for granted or relax. There’s always someone waiting in the wings to take your job.”


To date, Smith’s most famous — or infamous — moment came when he guaranteed a Steelers victory over the New England Patriots in 2007. Smith and the Steelers couldn’t back up the talk, giving up big plays and ultimately losing the game.


But Smith doesn’t want people to think he’s an attention hound.


“I’m not a flashy person, I’m just an emotional player,” Smith said. “You can get the two mixed up, which is what people are doing if they’re saying I’m a ’hot dog.’ Because I have a lot of emotion for the game, I express myself a lot and I like to have fun. You only play this game for a certain time. So for people to judge you for having fun, I really don’t care about that.”


Smith doesn’t regret making his guarantee, but does say he has matured on and off the field since then. Perry said Smith’s slide down Pittsburgh’s depth chart last season might have taught him a lesson.


“You see a little more sense of urgency from him, realizing that ’Hey, this may be my last opportunity. I don’t want to be considered a journeyman,’ if you will,” Perry said. “After a while, if you start bouncing around, people aren’t going to look at you as a starter. They’re going to look at you as a backup-type player. If you want to change that label, you’ve got a great opportunity to do something about it.”


He might get that chance in training camp. For now, though, he’s still adjusting to the relatively slow pace of life in Green Bay. He hasn’t really found much to do — other than eat at chain restaurants, that is.


“We go to a couple restaurants Green Bay has — the Longhorn’s and, what’s it’s called, the Olive Garden?” Smith said. “Yeah, the Olive Garden and Longhorn’s. I eat at about the same three places every week and every day. I’m getting pretty used to it.”


Packer notes


Nick Barnett continues to recover from knee surgery, but the linebacker still isn’t certain that he’ll be ready for full participation in practice when training camp opens Aug. 1. “We don’t even know,” Barnett said. “It all depends on how it progresses in this next month and then July. We’re close, though.” ... McCarthy said rookie punter Adam Graessle and nose tackle Brian Soi were no longer on the roster, although the team did not formally announce they had been cut. ... Wide receiver Donald Driver was present for Wednesday’s practice, as was cornerback Charles Woodson. Collins was not present.



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