Smith finding familiar roles in Saints' new 3-4 defense
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
METAIRIE — When the Saints’ Will Smith burst through the line for his first sack of this preseason, he was lined up at the defensive end spot he’s played the first nine years of his career, not at his new outside linebacker spot.
That doesn’t mean the Saints are leaning toward making Smith a lineman again, coach Sean Payton said, but does mean the club will routinely play to Smith’s established strengths as a pass rusher in its new 3-4 defense.
“If you take any one of these teams that are in a 3-4 front (three linemen, four linebackers), the minute you get into your (substitution) packages, these outside linebackers generally become ends in the pass rush,” Payton said.
Smith’s sack of Oakland starter Matt Flynn last Friday night came on what Payton said was a tackle-end stunt, in which the tackle slants wide to rush on the edge and the end cuts behind the tackle toward the inside.
For Smith, that play would be “very similar to what he’s done for the last (nine) years,” Payton said. “That was very familiar to him.”
Drafted 18th overall by New Orleans in 2004, Smith lined up as a defensive end, with his hand on the ground, in a 4-3 front.
This season, he sometimes lines up standing upright, and sometimes gets down in a three-point stance as a traditional end might.
Although Smith potentially could get caught in some mismatches with quicker players while trying to cover short passes, the veteran defender has maintained that talk of his transition to a new position is overblown.
“The majority of the time I’m rushing the passer,” Smith said. “Every now and then I drop back in coverage and try to guard those speedsters, but I don’t do that much and I do what I’ve been doing the last nine years.
“I’m going to be rushing the passer, I’m going to be playing the run,” Smith continued. “For the most part, I’m going to be doing the same thing I’ve always done and that’s why I said it wasn’t that big of a transition.”
Smith’s career-high in sacks came in 2009, when he had 13 in helping the Saints to their only Super Bowl title. He has not has as many as seven sacks in a season since, but said that’s in part because opponents’ blocking schemes accounted for him more during the past few seasons, when he had to take on numerous double-teams.
“Now I’m mostly just a pass rusher up against tight ends and running backs,” Smith said. “It makes it a lot easier for me to pass rush and do a lot of things I do well.”
Payton said Smith still “plays the point of attack well. ... For the handful of snaps that he ends up in space, I think he’s becoming more comfortable with that.”
Smith said he’s lost about 10 pounds, down to around 268, to handle some of the outside linebacker duties which will be new to him. Some of his longtime team-mates think the new look suits Smith.
“I like the slim-and-trim Will. I’ve seen him with his shirt off. He looks good,” safety Roman Harper said. “He’s playing fast. He’s still getting a lot of pressure up front. He’s still going to be Will. He’s still going to be able to put his hand down and get a lot of pressure and he’s still going to be stout against the run, and he thinks he’s athletic enough to play the pass, so there we go.”
Notes: The Saints waived OT Jason Smith, a 2009 second overall pick of the St. Louis Rams who’d signed with New Orleans as a free agent with the hope of com-peting with 2010 second-round pick Charles Brown and rookie third-round pick Terron Armstead at left tackle. Brown is now working with the first team and Armstead with the second team. ... FB Jed Collins (undisclosed), LB Chris Chamberlain (knee), and LB Jon Vilma (knee) were not at practice. ... WR Marques Colston (foot), G Jahri Evans and OLB Junior Galette (left leg) were on the practice field for stretching but sat out drills. It was not clear if Evans had any soreness or was getting some rest.