“He’s everything we thought he was going to be, and I can’t say enough about the person, either,” Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. “He brings so much leadership to our defense and he’s been a lot of fun to be around. I think he raises the level of everybody around him.”
He’s made LaFleur’s offense start to account for him more during 11-on-11 work, with a tight end kept in to chip block on occasion now. Smith admitted he was caught off-guard by the tactic in Sunday’s practice because he hadn’t seen it early in camp, and he got knocked down at the snap. But he’ll be aware of it now.
LaFleur knew plenty about Smith before he joined the first-year head coach’s squad, too. Against a Tennessee offense coordinated by LaFleur last season, Smith had three sacks against the Titans in a Ravens win, and recalling the memory puts a smile on each’s face for different reasons – Smith’s because it was the best game of his career, LaFleur’s because he doesn’t have to face him anymore.
Kidding aside, LaFleur’s remark about Smith’s leadership can’t be understated, though. Smith feels he’s a natural leader who always had older, polished pros in front of him with the Ravens in Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley. He respected them, and his place, but he’s in a different world now.
Green Bay’s revamped defense has lost Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Mike Daniels in the last five months, and Smith not only has embraced the responsibility that has fallen on him to lead, he wanted it from Day 1.
“Most definitely,” he said. “This is Year 5 for me, man. It’s my time.”
He’s taken first-round draft pick Rashan Gary under his wing a bit, showing him some of the extra duties that come with being an outside linebacker. Smith and Gary were both down linemen in college, so Smith already has made the transition Gary did.
The rookie from Michigan made a solid play in pass coverage Sunday, dropping off the line and getting his hands on an Aaron Rodgers pass. He almost picked it off, and probably should have.
“I told him, ‘Aaron gave you a gift – you’ve got to take it,’” Smith said.
For his part, Smith will take any assignment that comes his way.