Malcolm Smith can make a difference in games, even without being a high-profile, high-impact player.
The versatile linebacker, who signed as a free agent with the Raiders recently (two years, $7 million), spent his first four NFL seasons in Seattle where he started just 16 of 57 games. And, with the Raiders, it’s unlikely that Smith will earn a starting spot in a three-man group that should feature Khalil Mack and Sio Moore on the outside, with free-agent addition Curtis Lofton in the middle.
But Smith can be an exceptional role player, as he showed in the 2013 season. The former USC standout was the Most Valuable Player of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII victory over Denver, as he returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown, recovered a fumble, was in on nine tackles and had two passes defensed.
By bringing in Smith, new Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. are adding competition to the linebacker mix and a player who – though he’s mostly played on the outside – can also play inside. And Norton knows him well, having coached him at USC and then at Seattle. He should be able to play to his strengths and know when best to use the 6-foot, 226-pounder.
In four seasons with the Seahawks, Smith, 25, was in on 129 tackles, had two sacks, two interceptions and five forced fumbles.
In Seattle in 2014, Smith’s playing time diminished. With a healthy and strong linebacking corps, Smith found it tougher to get on the field, playing in less than 30 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
Del Rio recently told reporters that Smith should get plenty of snaps as a starter this offseason while Moore rehabs from an injury. Just his presence and experience in a winning program may help elevate the linebacking play and defense in 2015.
“I believe in making it competitive whenever we can,” Del Rio said at the recent NFL meetings, according to Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “There are some guys that you could pencil at this point and say, ‘Yeah, that’s their spot,’ but even those guys are going to be pushed. Nobody’s just going to walk in. It’s not like we’re returning from the Super Bowl and have things figured out. We have a lot of work to do and competition is going to be a big part of it.”