From cheap shots to guarantees

Steelers insider Jim Wexell, author of "Steelers Nation," goes deep inside the story of why the former third-round pick fell out of favor and was not even given a restricted free agent tender. The Packers have a serious interest in the hard-hitting but mistake-prone and controversial player. This is a must-read for fans who want the real story.

The Green Bay Packers have what one NFL source told Packer Report a "surprising" interest in Pittsburgh Steelers safety Anthony Smith.

Our source wouldn't go into detail, other than to remind us about Smith's "guarantee" against the perfect New England Patriots in 2007.

We turned to our Scout.com counterpart in Pittsburgh, Jim Wexell, who wrote "Steelers Nation." He revealed the story behind why Smith — a third-round draft choice out of Syracuse in 2006 — wasn't even given a restricted free agent tender.

"To take you through this," Wexell wrote in an e-mail to Packer Report, "in his rookie year against Carolina, he intercepted a pass and returned it next to his ear as he high-stepped down the sideline. This showboating irked (defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau, who went over to talk to him and Anthony ignored him, showed him up, and it was obvious on TV. Anthony later said he wasn't ignoring Lebeau and that the veterans encouraged him to showboat on the return. Clark Haggans confirmed this in a TV interview, saying it was a ‘Hot pizza, hot pizza' interception return and joked that Anthony had to get there in so many minutes or would have to give the ball back.

"At the next training camp, Mike Tomlin's first year (as head coach), Smith crushed a small wide receiver named Willie Reid a couple of times. Anthony's very physical and aggressive. His uncle claims Tomlin encouraged these hits, but they were pretty cheap and (ticked) off offensive players such as Hines Ward.

"During that 2007 season, Smith stepped in for injured Ryan Clark and did OK. His best game was at Cincinnati. He'd talked brashly to me before the game that (Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh) had better watch themselves, and he was right. Anthony continually hammered them. One time, I saw something fly to the ground and Troy (Polamalu) picked it up and gave it back to C.J. I found out later it was C.J.'s gold teeth. C.J. later dropped a couple of easy third-down passes late in the game as it was apparent Anthony was in his head."

Smith made national headlines later in the season. During the days leading up to the game against the 12-0 Patriots in Foxborough, Smith famously said: "People keep asking me if we're ready for the Patriots. They should be asking if they're ready for us."

"We're going to win," he added. "Yeah, I can guarantee a win."

That Sunday, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Randy Moss made Smith eat his words. New England rolled 34-13, and Smith was exposed as a player far too aggressive and undisciplined to play for the defensive-minded Steelers.

Smith bit on a play-action fake and was torched for a 63-yard touchdown catch by Moss. Later, Smith froze on a flea-flicker to Jabar Gaffney that covered 56 yards. Those plays helped put the Patriots ahead 24-13.

At the end, Patriots fans were chanting, "Guarantee! Guarantee!"

The always-bland Belichick even talked some trash afterward, saying: "We've played against a lot better safeties than him, I'll tell you that." On top of that, Belichick said, "The safety play at that position was pretty inviting."

As training camp arrived last season, the Steelers moved Smith from free safety to strong safety, where his aggressive style would be better harnessed. But Smith, as Wexell put it, "was still biting on play-action in an effort to come up and make the kill shot, and he was still getting burnt deep."

Like the previous summer, Smith cheap-shotted Reed a couple more times. With Smith apparently unable to learn from his mistakes, he fell out of favor. Smith, who started four games as a rookie and 10 games in 2008, was a reserve for the first 14 games. He was deactivated for the final two regular-season games and through the Steelers' run to the championship.

Thus, Wexell said, it was no surprise a player of Smith's ability wasn't even tendered. Had the Steelers tendered Smith and lost him, they would have received a third-round pick as compensation. Instead, they are content to let him go for nothing.

The Packers' interest, in light of Wexell's story, is surprising. Then again, it makes perfect sense. With new coordinator Dom Capers, safeties coach Darren Perry and outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, the Packers' defense is taking on a definite Pittsburgh flavor. Perry worked with Smith while part of the Steelers' staff in 2006. And why not take a chance on someone with the talent of Smith, who got to watch behind the incomparable Polamalu?

With all of that said, Wexell wishes Smith well. While doing research for his book, Wexell said, he "spoke to his uncle, who rescued Anthony from the mean streets of Youngstown, where he was a childhood friend of Maurice Clarett and another Ohio State recruit who ended up in jail. His uncle is a class act, so I know Anthony has great stability in his life. To me, he's a good kid from a solid family who might just need a change of scenery. I wish him the best of luck wherever he ends up."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report 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 Lambeau Level forum.


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