Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith has been both a part-time player and full-time starter in his five-year NFL career.
Playing his first four seasons with the Seahawks, Smith mostly was a situational player – but one who made such a huge impact in Seattle’s Super Bowl victory over the Broncos in February of 2014 that he was named the game’s MVP. In that game he returned an interception for a score, recovered a fumble and had nine tackles.
When he came to the Raiders as a free agent in 2015, he became a bigger part of the defense, stepping in as a leader and starting all 16 games. Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., for whom Smith also played in Seattle, touted Smith as a difference-maker on his unit as much for his mind as his athletic ability.
“He’s really smart, an economics major in college at USC, knows the game,” Norton said last season. “If you can tell, he’s a guy that is always around the ball. He has a rabbit’s foot in his pocket. Good things happen to him. You want players on your team that are smart, hard-working and have good luck. … Malcolm is a type of guy that you want on your squad.”
Now, as Smith heads toward his second training camp with the Raiders later this month, he is saying similar things about his teammates and coaches.
In an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio this week, Smith says the players the Raiders have added in free agency this season – and the holdover players from last season – are meshing well and understanding the schemes both on offense and defense.
Smith goes into training camp believing this Raiders team will play smarter under head coach Jack Del Rio, Norton and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
“I think that’s definitely the key for this second season,” Smith said. “We kind of took our lumps last year. We learned what we like to do, what the coaching staff feels is best for us and trying to put guys in the best position. I feel like just another year of growth as a group, trying to get a good nucleus of guys together and finding pieces and finding what they do well. I feel like we’ve taken a big step, especially in the offseason, just learning, increasing our football knowledge.
“That was one thing we had in Seattle was a really high football IQ as a team. That’s something Jack’s preaching and, obviously, Ken Norton as well and then Coach Musgrave. I think that’s going to take us to the playoffs. That’ll be the difference making our season this year.”