Rookie snapshot: Anthony Smith

The Pittsburgh Steelers' interest in safety Anthony Smith of Syracuse peaked early last week as the team centered in on Smith in the days leading up to the draft.

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 star.

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 whole time.

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 be there.

"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 playing."

Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter

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