Knowing that the likes of Michael Huff, Donte Whitner and Jason Allen could already be selected by the time they made their first selection with the 32nd pick in the draft, the Steelers started digging deep into the second tier of safety prospects.
And they kept on coming back to Smith, who picked off 14 passes and
blocked six punts during his career with the Orange.
Trouble was, in all of their film revue of the 5-11, 192-pound Smith,
the Steelers kept coming up with five blocked punts for the Syracuse
Intrigued, the Steelers called Syracuse's athletic department to find
out about the missing block.
As it turns out, it was right there under their noses, so to speak, the
If Smith, whom the Steelers took with one of their two third-round
selections in last weekend's NFL draft, blocks a kick for the team at
Heinz Field next season, it won't be his first in that venue. In fact,
the missing block the Steelers were so adamant about finding, happened
at Heinz Field when Smith blocked a punt against the University of
Pittsburgh that was returned for a touchdown by teammate Reggie McCoy.
So much for the detective work.
But the Steelers weren't done with their digging on Smith, whose six
interceptions in 2005 tied him for second in the nation. They brought
the hard-hitting safety to Pittsburgh for a visit and also sent scouts
to the Syracuse pro day to get a second reading on Smith's speed.
Because the Steelers knew the 4.71-second 40-yard dash time Smith ran
at the NFL combine just couldn't be right.
"He's a complete safety," said Steelers secondary coach Darren Perry of
Smith, who ran a 4.58-second 40 at his pro day.
"He can do it all. He can tackle. He can make plays on the ball. He's a guy that you feel very comfortable with. He's an
aggressive guy with the ball; he'll go up and high point it and when
someone gets some space he can get them on the ground. That's what we
look for on this defense, athletic safeties that can run and make plays
on the ball. I think he'll be a good complement to Troy (Polamalu)."
In fact, the Steelers thought so much of Smith that they had him rated
as the fourth-best safety on their draft board, ahead of South Carolina's Ko Simpson and USC's Darnell Bing, two high-profile safeties
still available when the Steelers selected Smith.
The reason? Every time they looked at him on film, he was making big
plays, even if they couldn't always find the ones that were supposed to
"When they put on the film, it speaks for itself," Smith told the
Syracuse Post-Standard. "I'm not a track star by any means, but guys
aren't just running by me.
"The 40 is a little bit overrated. It doesn't determine if a guy is
good or not. Jerry Rice is the greatest receiver in the game and he's
4.6. All that is overrated."
The Steelers also stuck with their philosophy of acquiring players who
eat, sleep and drink football.
Smith has a tattoo of a football on the inside of his forearm as a
reminder of his passion.
"It's to remind me of what I'm here for," said Smith. "I'm here to play
football. I think that's my calling."
The Steelers certainly think so, no matter what his time in the 40-yard
dash was or his perceived lack of size.
"People got a little scared of him at Indianapolis because his 40-yard
dash time was a little slow compared to some of the other safeties,"
said Perry, himself a slow-footed, playmaking safety who spent a decade
in the NFL. "The one thing we do as coaches is that we don't put a lot
of stock into some of those numbers out there. We look at football
players and this guy's a football player. He plays much faster than his
40 time would indicate. That won't be an issue."
Smith agrees, even if he also had to answer questions about a perceived
lack of size as well.
"The coaches don't have a problem with it," Smith told the
Post-Standard. "If you can play fast and make tackles, it doesn't
matter what your size is. If you can break up passes, make plays and
catch interceptions, it doesn't matter."
Smith doesn't just make plays with his hands and feet. He also has a
penchant for throwing his body around.
Witness his hit on Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel last season. Smith
blitzed off the corner and leveled the 6-4, 220-pound Teel, one of the
biggest hits of the college football season.
"I just looked at him," Smith told the Associated Press. "He didn't say
anything. He was out of breath."
Smith's play last season was one of the few bright spots for the
Orange, who won just one game under new head coach Greg Robinson.
Robinson, who replaced Paul Pasqualoni, installed a West Coast offense
that Syracuse struggled with all season. But he also brought a more
aggressive defense that allowed Smith to shine. Smith, who had already
put together a solid career, did that and more, recording 71 tackles,
three sacks, six interception and recovering three fumbles.
"I'm getting more chances to make plays, cause turnovers," Smith told
the AP during the season. "I'm blitzing more, I'm down in the box more.
The change has helped me out a lot."
That, and his ability to stay focused despite everything wrong that was
going on around him, showed the Steelers that Smith was a football
player first and foremost.
"You've just got to keep going no matter what the situation is," Smith
told the AP. "Sometimes, guys get to looking at the scoreboard. We're
up, and then next thing you know we're down. But you've got to keep
Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter
Rookie snapshot: Anthony Smith
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