Tampa Bay tight end Alex Smith was drafted out of Stanford in the third round (71st overall) by the Buccaneers in the 2005 NFL Draft. Coming into that draft, he was widely considered to be the No. 2 tight end (behind Virginia's Heath Miller) in the country and was projected by a number of draft experts to be a first-round pick. However, when Miller lasted until 30th overall (drafted by Pittsburgh) due to a hernia injury, Smith began to slide until the Bucs eventually took him with their last pick of the first day as the second tight end to go off the board.
While he logged only 17 starts in his first two seasons, he still caught 76 passes for 617 yards. So far this season, he has started all four games and most notable is that his yards-per-catch average has jumped from around 8 to 10.2. When you consider that he caught four passes (out of 11 total so far this year) for a paltry 17 yards against the Panthers in Week 4, that makes his average that much more noteworthy.
Smith is a big target -- at 6 foot 4, 258 pounds -- who will tower over the back seven of Indianapolis' defense, and yet also possesses the speed to beat them deep, especially in the vacant areas in the intermediate-middle of the Colts defense. In Tampa Bay's four games so far this season, quarterback Jeff Garcia has used Smith both as a safety valve (as seen last week against the Panthers) and a deep threat (as evidenced by his 22.5 yard-per-catch average against the Saints in Week 2).
One thing is certain: A West Coast offense quarterback such as Jeff Garcia and a West Coast offense coach such as Jon Gruden will find ways to use a player with Smith's talents to their fullest potential. So Indianapolis will have to track Smith's whereabouts carefully throughout Sunday's matchup.
If Smith drops into the flat, the Colts linebackers need to make sure that they keep him in front of them and use sound tackling techniques, as Smith is two inches and 30 pounds -- on average -- bigger than the players in the linbacking corps.
When he gets past the linebackers, safeties Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea need to make sure that they do not attempt to prematurely "jump" the route, as the undersized duo could easily find themselves on the losing side, watching Smith use his speed to sprint to the end zone after breaking a loose arm tackle. First and foremost, they need to stick to their assignments and submarine Smith to take his legs out from under him when he comes into their area. Technique aside, there is the simple matter of physics that works tremendously in Smith's favor in any one-on-one confrontation.
The defense must be especially aware of Smith's activities in the red zone. In his first two seasons, while not even a full-time starter, he scored 5 touchdowns. That said, he's still seeking his first one of this season. When the Buccaneers get inside the 20-yard line, the Colts need to make sure that they are not his first victim of the season by moving Sanders and Bethea too far up.
Most importantly, this is a wounded Tampa offense, having placed both left tackle Luke Pettigout and running back Cadillac Williams on injured reserve this week. They will be looking for a hero. The Colts need to make sure that the Buccaneers do not find one in their tight end this week, the "other Alex Smith."