For the past five seasons, Antonio Smith was a durable defensive end in the Houston Texans’ 3-4 scheme.
Until last season, he never missed a game, playing all 64 games from 2009-2012, until finally missing one of 16 last year.
Over that span in Texas, the 6-foot-4, 289-pounder from Oklahoma State – a fifth-round pick of the Cardinals in 2004 – amassed 27 sacks, 157 tackles, seven forced fumbles and batted down 10 passes.
Now Smith, 32, is getting a fresh start to his career, having signed a two-year deal worth a reported $9 million with the Raiders, for whom he’ll play defensive tackle. He’ll be part of a major reconstruction of the team’s defense and defensive line, where he’s expected to play inside along with Pat Sims and Stacy McGee, flanked by veteran free-agent pickups Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley at ends.
General manager Reggie McKenzie believes Smith – known as the “Ninja Assassin” in Houston – can help solidify Oakland’s efforts against the run, while adding pass-rush pressure from the inside in the Raiders’ 4-3 scheme.
Last season he had five sacks and was ranked No. 17 in the Pro Football Focus ranking of 3-4 defensive ends. And in 2012, Smith was selected to the Pro Bowl after collecting 51 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles.
So far, however, Smith has been unable to participate in the Raiders’ organized team activities (OTAs) because of an unspecified injury incurred in a weight-room accident earlier this year, which required surgery. It is not expected to keep him from fully participating in training camp, which begins next month.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen believes the injury, surgery and rehab won’t hold Smith back.
“He’s been doing really well,” Allen told reporters in May.
Tania Ganguli, who covers the Texans for ESPN.com, noted in March, when the Raiders signed Smith, that Smith was a much better pass rusher than run stuffer. But with the Raiders – playing in the middle of the line – getting to the passer is going to be more difficult.
But, he has the skill set to succeed in the middle, she wrote.
“Smith is strong and can overpower opposing linemen,” she noted.
Plus, he’s a character. After signing with the Raiders, Smith told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group that he’s multifaceted. Once he gets back on the field, he expects to bring a lot to the new-look defense.
“What do I bring to the team?” Smith said in response to a question. “The many faces of Antonio, that’s what I bring to the team. There’s a lot of them: cowboy, soothsayer, ninja. I’m just an all-around everything, a jack of all trades.”