With Heavy Heart, Smith Taking the Long Road

Brandon Smith had a dismal career as a receiver at Arizona State due to a litany of injuries. Refusing to give up on his NFL dream, Smith spent last year making the move to cornerback. Shortly before going to Green Bay as a tryout player at the rookie camp, Smith's mom died.

Football is a cold-hearted, bottom-line business.

That doesn't mean you can't have a soft spot for someone like Green Bay Packers cornerback Brandon Smith.

From 2007 through 2009, he played in just one game as a wide receiver at Arizona State due to an assortment of injuries. As a senior in 2010, he caught just one pass.

Fast forward to May 2013. There was Smith, wearing No. 5 and lining up at cornerback as a tryout player at the Packers' rookie camp.

What he accomplished that weekend in earning a contract is all the more remarkable considering he was playing with the heaviest of hearts. Shortly before leaving for Green Bay for perhaps his last shot at the NFL, Smith's mother died.

"It was an easy decision to come here," he said. "With me having this one opportunity, this one chance, I know this is what my mom would have wanted me to do. I love my mom, through death and beyond. I love her right now as we speak."

Smith wasn't looking for sympathy. Few members of the Packers' coaching staff and front office knew what he was dealing with that weekend.

"The thing about it, he came in and said nothing about it," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "He came in with a workman's attitude. He did something that I don't know if I could do. That was Mother's Day weekend, so that's doubly hard. The kid came here and he worked as a tryout guy, not a guy that's already signed, so that shows you the character that he has."

If Smith makes it, he can thank Seattle coach Pete Carroll. While at USC, Carroll recruited Smith as a cornerback. After the 2011 draft, Smith signed with Seattle as a receiver. He didn't make the team but a conversation with Carroll jump-started the move to cornerback. He spent 2012 working with Will Sullivan at Fischer Sports in Phoenix; among Sullivan's prized pupils is Darrelle Revis.

Strong performances at the NFL's regional and super-regional combines got Smith the invitation to Green Bay.

"It was a dream come true," he said of signing his contract. "I worked really hard for it and I had a lot of people supporting and believing in me. When I got the phone call, I was so excited and a lot of my close friends were excited, too. It's been a long, hard-fought road making the switch from receiver and, before that, the injuries and the adversity to fight through that. Thank God for the Green Bay Packers for giving me a chance to prove myself."

Smith, who at 26 years old is the third-oldest cornerback on the team, is an intriguing prospect. At 6-foot-1, he's got elite size to match his elite athletic ability (4.39 40 and 40-inch vertical at 2011 pro day). He's a bump-and-run, press-man cornerback, which matches the Packers' preference.

"That he doesn't know anything about defense right now and once he figures it out he's got a chance to be pretty good," Whitt said when asked what he likes most about Smith.

On the surface, it's preposterous to compare Smith to one of the best players in the game. However, Seattle's Richard Sherman was a top receiver at Stanford before a serious knee injury. He moved to cornerback and was named first-team All-Pro in 2012.

"There's no question that he has size and he's fast and strong," Whitt said. "That's not a bad comparison at all — a guy that did it late and is playing at a high level. Hopefully, when this guy here figures it out, he can play similarly to Sherman."

Either way, Smith's got one very big fan watching from above.

"She would have been very happy," he said of his mom. "She knew how hard I had been trying. She knows my athleticism. For me to be left out of my dream, left out of the NFL with the top athletes in the world — she had a drive and a passion for me to keep going and continue my dreams. She was very supportive. I know she would have been very happy — I'm sure she would have been very happy. I know she's watching down. I keep her in my heart all the time."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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