Newcomer Smith Starting Fresh


Safety Anthony Smith doesn't concern himself with how or why he fell out of favor in Pittsburgh last season.

He'd prefer simply to look at his free-agent arrival in Green Bay as a new beginning, and with that in mind, his focus is forward, as it should be for a 25-year-old who has proven he has the athleticism to play in the NFL.

"I'm coming in here, really to re-start my career and get re-established," Smith said this week after finishing one of his offseason workouts. "I'm just coming here to get a fresh start, and whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to do it."

Originally a third-round draft choice of the Steelers in 2006, Smith started at safety the final four games of his rookie season when regular starter Ryan Clark was injured. He started another 10 games in 2007, mostly for an injured Clark, and then was relegated to a reserve in 2008 when Clark returned to the lineup.

But last season, he saw very little action from scrimmage as a backup, and not much more on special teams, a role he played well as a rookie with 15 coverage tackles. By season's end, he wasn't playing at all, landing on the gameday inactive list for all three of Pittsburgh's postseason games, including Super Bowl XLIII.

Smith said he never discussed with any of the coaches what was going on, but he didn't make excuses. A restricted free agent with three years of service, Smith wasn't tendered a contract by the Steelers this offseason, removing any restrictions, and earlier this month the Packers signed him.

Various media reports have speculated that Smith's "decline" in Pittsburgh began late in the 2007 season, when he guaranteed a victory over then-unbeaten New England, only to be victimized by Patriots QB Tom Brady for a pair of touchdown passes.

Whatever the back-story, Smith is moving ahead with his career, and he sees Green Bay as a good fit on several fronts. First and foremost is his reunion with Packers new safeties coach Darren Perry, who was Smith's position coach for his rookie season in Pittsburgh before Perry moved on to Oakland.

Obviously, Perry was not around when things started to go south for Smith in Pittsburgh, but he feels his former pupil is taking the right approach by focusing on a new beginning.

"You get to a point in your career and you kind of come to a crossroads," Perry said, "and you have to decide, 'Hey, how do I want to be viewed? What's my perception amongst my peers, amongst other coaches throughout the league? Am I a backup? Am I a journeyman? Am I capable of being a starter? Can I do it consistently enough to gain the trust of my coaches and my teammates?'

"I think from that standpoint it's going to be very important for him to come in with a brand new attitude, a fresh start, and come in and play with that focus, really from start to finish. That will be key for him. I think he's excited about that, and I think it's all going to help us."

Perry said he hasn't talked about a role with Smith, other than emphasizing he'll have an opportunity to compete. Pro Bowler Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, provided he returns in '09 fully healthy, are the Packers' starting safeties until further notice, but what Perry likes about Smith is his versatility - the ability to play either the free safety or strong safety position - and his combination of abilities.

"When you make plays as a safety, there's really two qualities you have to have," Perry said. "You have to be a great tackler in space, and you have to be able to make plays on the ball, and he can do all of that. You see a lot of players usually have one and lack the other.

"But he's very instinctive and he's smart. He's going to bring a toughness to the secondary, a mentality that we already have, but I think he's going to just enhance that mentality."

Smith also should help the secondary make the transition to the new 3-4 defensive scheme. He has played in that scheme his first three years in the league, handling the calls and communication the safety is responsible for.

"I can help the other guys out, and I think that's another reason they brought me in," Smith said. "Just to help them learn the techniques and the ins and outs of the defense. I think once they get a feel for it and the hang of it, they'll mesh right in with it."

{sportsad300}Smith hopes to blend in similarly with his new teammates, and his accelerated learning curve relative to the 3-4 should be beneficial in that respect. As Pittsburgh's starting safety for 10 games in 2007 opposite Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu, Smith recorded a career-high 74 tackles and two interceptions.

"I think he makes us better by coming here," Perry said. "His role is yet to be determined, but obviously you see a talented player that's going to compete, and he's going to push those other guys."

Smith knows his former coach will push him too, as will the opportunity to re-define himself.

"I'm thrilled to be back with 'DP,' because he knows what I can do and what kind of player I am," Smith said. "He doesn't have to come in and wonder if I'm a hitter or what kind of guy I am. 'DP' knows everything I want to do.

"Coming from Pittsburgh, another historical franchise with a lot of tradition, this is a good place to come to. There's a lot of chemistry. Everyone is pretty much on the same page, trying to reach the same goals, so that's a good thing."

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