Introducing The New Marvel Smith

The old Marvel Smith barely spoke above a whisper. At top end, he'd mumble. But the new Marvel Smith, the one who's just beginning his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is comparatively riotous. <br><br> "That's his confidence," said Steelers line coach Russ Grimm. "Mark my words ...

... he's going to surprise a lot of people this year."

This year, Smith is being moved to the hot corner of pro football. After three seasons at right tackle, Smith is being moved to left tackle to replace Wayne Gandy, who signed a six-year, $30 million contract with the New Orleans Saints last March. Smith calls it the opportunity of a lifetime.

"It's something I've always looked forward to," he said. "I always looked at myself as a left tackle and I played left tackle my whole life until I got here with the Steelers. It's been my dream to play left tackle in the NFL, so now I have the opportunity."

Smith has never been a glory hound, but he realizes that left tackle is generally reserved for the team's best overall lineman, and therefore its highest-paid. Smith is entering the final year of the contract he signed as a second-round draft pick in 2000. A good season at left tackle would mean a financial jackpot for him by next year at this time.

"At this level, it's a given that the left tackle is paid well," he said. "But the way I look at it, I've got one more year left on my contract. I'm just focusing on this last year."

Smith said the Steelers haven't begun talking to his agent about a possible contract extension, but he's only worried about the little things necessary to make the big move a success. The first good tip Smith received came from broadcaster and former Steelers tackle Tunch Ilkin, who advised the right-handed Smith to become left-handed this offseason.

"It makes a lot of sense," Smith said. "It seemed like I hadn't done anything with my left side for three years, so it's just getting your body back adjusted to doing something you're not used to doing, something as simple as eating cereal with your left hand. Whenever I think about it, I go ahead and do anything with my left hand. I unlock the door with my left hand. Things like that."

Smith did try writing left-handed but with little success.

"It didn't work out too well," he said, but his left-handed work on the field has been much smoother.

"Actually, when I first got down into my stance left-handed, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be," he said. "It feels comfortable. I still have to think, though, more than I would like to right now, but it's only the first week out here. In fact today I felt more comfortable than I did the first day already."

"It's early but he appears comfortable over there," said Grimm. "He played left tackle in college and he's a seasoned vet. He's got three years under his belt. I think he'll be fine over there. I have all the confidence in the world in him."

Grimm is more concerned about Smith and left guard Alan Faneca building chemistry on that side of the line than any problems Smith may have protecting the quarterback's blind side.

"He's already seen a lot of good rushers on his side anyway. Teams are always flipping rushers," Grimm said. "I think he'll be fine over there. He's athletic. It's a natural move for him."

Oliver Ross is also moving to his natural position of right tackle. Presently running with the first team, Ross has made only eight starts in his five years as a pro, all have come during the last two seasons with the Steelers. He opened the 2002 season at right guard, but was replaced in the second game by rookie Kendall Simmons. In 2001, Ross started five games at right guard, one at left tackle and one at right tackle.

Smith's first game at left tackle would break a string of 38 consecutive regular-season starts at right tackle. He also started the Steelers' last four playoff games at right tackle.

"I think we're going to get a good run blocker and a good pass protector over there," said Grimm. "I think he's going to do well."

Jim Wexell

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