Who's That? Jaguars LB Daryl Smith

You know all about Jacksonville's big defensive linemen and their middle linebacker Mike Peterson, but Brad Keller tells you why you should get familiar with strongside linebacker Daryl Smith -- and why he's important to the outcome of Monday's game.

With Jacksonville's tremendous presence in the middle -- the terrible threesome of Mike Peterson, Marcus Stroud, and John Henderson -- the Colts will have to stay outside the tackles to be effective in Monday night's game against the Jaguars.  As a result, the Colts will likely focus on taking advantage of strongside linebacker Daryl Smith as often as possible. 

But what are his strengths and weaknesses?  And how can they gain an advantage working against him? 

We've got it all scouted out right here.

Daryl Smith was drafted by Jacksonville out of Georgia Tech in the second round (39th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft.  After a rocky start to his rookie year when he struggled with a knee injury for most of the season, he finished with 48 tackles, two sacks, and an interception.  He has started at strongside linebacker for the Jaguars since the start of the 2005 season and has piled up 169 tackles, 7 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions since then.  While he's not as well-known as teammate and former-Colt Mike Peterson, Jacksonville obviously thinks he's a good fit for the organization since they signed him to a five-year contract extension this offseason.

Looking at Smith's stats and his game in general, it's fairly easy to determine why the Jaguars locked him in past the end of the decade.  He has left no stone unturned and has registered in every category that a linebacker can possibly amass stats.  However, he appears to be a "jack of all trades, master of none."  

Teams that have a tight end that is skilled both as a receiver and a blocker have had success going to Smith's side because he lacks the coverage skills and lateral movement of Peterson and lacks the sheer size at 6-foot-2, 244 pounds to match up well with most tight ends in the league.

Fortunately for Indianapolis, they have a skilled tight end who is adroit in both the running and passing games in Dallas Clark.  The ability of Clark -- and the right side of the offensive line -- to exploit this matchup will be a key to the Colts' overall success in Monday night's game.

Working on the strong side of the formation, Smith is matched up against the tight end in most situations.  This would usually lend credence to his ability in pass coverage, but the numbers tell a different story.  Throughout his four seasons in the NFL (including this year), Smith has registered only 15 passes defended, with a high of seven in 2006 and a low of two in 2005.  Yes, you read that right.  The man tasked with the responsibility of covering the opposing team's tight end (which has been Clark two games a year since Smith came to Jacksonville) had just two passes defended for the entire 2005 season.  And one interception.


Smith celebrates after an interception back in 2004 versus the Colts
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Historically, the Jaguars have been able to cover this deficiency by rolling Peterson into the tight end's side of the field or having Smith jam the tight end at the line and offering safety help behind him.  But with Donovan Darius' departure in the offseason, rookie first-round pick Reggie Nelson at free safety, and the venerable Sammy Knight at strong safety, Jacksonville does not appear to have that luxury this time around.

It is therefore on Peyton Manning, Clark, and offensive coordinator Tom Moore to find the best way to take advantage of this matchup.  While it may require Manning to fit the ball in some tight spaces early on -- and they'll only get tighter as the game progresses -- the Colts should target Clark early and often 5-8 yards down the field, much like they did against Tampa in Week 5.  The safeties will begin to creep in towards the line of scrimmage, which will give Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne lots of open real estate deep.

The more 5-8 yard completions that Manning and Clark connect on early in the game, the more 25-28 yard receptions Harrison and Wayne will have later in the game -- especially considering the fact that cornerbacks Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams are very aggressive and could be prone to jumping routes, which would expose them to pump fakes, double-moves, and play-action passes.

In the running game, Indianapolis has shown an aversion to running behind rookie left tackle Tony Ugoh, so right tackle Ryan Diem and right guard Jake Scott need to seal off the left side of Jacksonville's defense, freeing Clark -- who should usually be lined up away from the formation, not alongside Diem -- to seek and destroy Smith, using his size and power to drive Smith into the pile of garbage that Diem and Scott will be pushing.  The idea here is to create too much interference for Mike Peterson to flow to the ball from his middle linebacker spot.  He is considerably more effective when he is allowed to "run and chase" as opposed to having to run around or through piles of bodies on his way to the ball carrier.

Overall, Monday night's matchup features two teams that are very familiar with each other and generally wash each other out in terms of skill player vs. skill player.  Indianapolis needs to identify the key battles that it can win easily and exploit them in order to be successful on offense. 

Clark vs. Smith is about as easy as it's going to get.  And it will still be a challenge.


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