Antonio Smith has played in just one Pro Bowl as a defensive lineman. That came in 2011 with the Houston Texans.
But as a talker, Smith might be All-Pro every season.
The Raiders’ defensive tackle, signed as a free agent this offseason, already is Oakland’s Mr. Optimism. Now entering his 11th NFL season, Smith – who gave himself the nickname “Ninja Assassin” – will turn 33 in October and will be part of a refurbished defensive line that includes former Giant Justin Tuck (31), former Steeler LaMarr Woodley (29) and holdover Pat Sims, the baby of the group at 28.
Smith believes the Raiders defense will be formidable in 2014. With rookie linebacker Khalil Mack added, plus new corners Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown and the return of safety Tyvon Branch, Oakland could be a much more attacking defense than it was in 2013, when it ranked 22nd overall and 28th against the pass.
In these first weeks of training camp though, all the holdovers, rookies an veteran free agents will need to mesh.
Smith, who signed a two-year deal for $9 million, believes they can.
“Man, we got a heck of a defense,” Smith told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “We got something special here. But whenever you have something special, you always got to have the glue that keeps it together. And that’s a mindframe that you’ve got to build in camp where they’ve got to learn who we are and trust us, we’ve got to learn who they is and trust them, and once you build that bond as a brother, you get that trust going. That’s when you build something special.”
Smith can be a big part of that special group. The 6-foot-3, 274-pounder has been extremely durable and productive in his career. He’s only missed one game over his past eight seasons and has 18.5 sacks and four forced fumbles over his past three seasons.
The way he sees it, all the experience that he, Tuck and Woodley bring to the team will make the defensive line tough to handle. And, he told Tafur, they aren’t over the hill.
“Man, they can criticize all they want, but Tuck, me and Wood outstack probably 80 to 90 percent of the younger players who they keep pubbing up,” Smith said. “So as long as wee keep producing, age don’t mean nothing.”
Smith could make things entertaining and enjoyable for Raiders fans on the field and off.
As the Ninja Assassin, Smith in the past has charged out of the tunnel on game days wearing a mask and has done the “Ninja Assassin Sack Slash of Death,” in which he pretends to wield a sword after a sack. When he first signed with the Raiders, he wasn’t certain if his Ninja persona would come with him. Now he’s sure. The Ninja Assassin will be playing at O.co Coliseum this fall and winter, Smith told Tafur.
He said “the Ninja Assassin playing in the Black Hole” has a “nice ring to it.”
Said Smith: “He is I and I am him.”