Marcus Smith is enlightened. And humbled.
He’s only been with the Seahawks for a couple months. Yet he already knows to take the advice of Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett.
Smith was an unlikely key to last weekend’s win over Indianapolis. On the defense’s 11th play of the game, Cliff Avril, another Pro Bowl end, got kicked under his chin with a flailing leg of Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Avril was out for the rest of the night with neck and spine issues.
Smith entered. For the next two quarters the former Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round pick kept ramming head-and-shoulders first into Colts offensive tackle Joe Haeg.
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"The whole game I had been bull rushing," Smith said. "We came to the sideline (in the middle of the third quarter) and Mike was like, ‘Take him high and around.’
"So the next time I took him high and around."
And right into Brissett. Smith’s fast, outside move around the slower blocker freed him to slam into the quarterback as Brissett was raising him arm to pass. Seahawks teammate Bobby Wagner picked up the fumble and returned it 22 yards for the touchdown that broke open a 25-18 game in Seattle’s eventual 46-18 runaway win.
"It was really big. I know I can make those types of plays," Smith said. "These plays play over my mind, constantly. When I do make a play I know that it was already up here first."
Smith, standing at his locker following the rousing win Sunday night, then pointed to his head.
In Philadelphia, they thought his head was part of a problem, not an asset.
Smith had only four sacks in three seasons with inconsistent playing time since the Eagles made him the 26th-overall pick in the 2014 draft. Yet this spring he decided to skip all 11 of the Eagles’ organized team activities and voluntary minicamp practices. That was while Philadelphia was deciding not to pick up his fifth-year contract option Smith could have earned as a first-round pick.
Skipping OTAs and minicamps is no big deal if you are an All-Pro or Pro Bowl star. Bennett did it again this spring with the Seahawks, and no one in Seattle cared.
But a disappointing draft bust fighting to make the team doing it? In a city where they have booed and thrown snow balls at Santa Claus during an Eagles game?
Plus, Smith’s timing for skipping workouts and staying home wasn’t exactly exquisite. The Eagles had just signed veteran rush end Chris Long and drafted with the 14th-overall pick University of Tennessee pass rusher Derek Barnett. Indeed, Smith greased his own, quick path out of Philadelphia. By July, he was gone; the Eagles released him. That city called him a bust.
Two days later Pete Carroll and John Schneider called him, too—to sign a one-year contract for a second NFL chance.
That’s where the humbled part comes in.
Carroll can’t stockpile enough pass rushers, every summer and fall. The defense-first coach and former college defensive back was intrigued by Smith’s speed for a guy 6 feet 3 and 258 pounds. Carroll liked that Smith had the speed to play his "Leo" outside pass-rusher position, and can also drop back as a strongside linebacker.
"Marcus is a really versatile athlete," Carroll said. "He’s got good size. He’s fast. He’s a 4.6 (-second) guy (in the 40-yard dash). He is real coordinated. He can do a lot of stuff. He can come off the edge.
"We are most tuned in to him being a ‘Leo’ in our system, you know. I thought maybe a lot of Chris Clemons coming up."
Whoa. When anyone says "Chris Clemons" around the Seahawks, the mind instantly goes back to the 2013 defense, the deepest and best the team’s ever had—and a large reason why that season’s team won the Super Bowl.
Plus, if Smith was enough of a talent to be a first-round pick, there’s some locked potential there. And it’s rare that Carroll has come across a talented player with a questioned past for which he didn’t think he has the right key.
Yet Smith was one of the last players to make the Seahawks’ 53-man roster out of this preseason, more on his untapped potential than what he did in August with his new team.
"To be even playing on this defense is an honor and a privilege, with so many Pro Bowlers and guys who can contribute," Smith said following Sunday night’s victory over the Colts.
Smith had just 31 snaps on defense through the first three games. He didn’t play at all in the week-two win over San Francisco. Then Sunday night Avril got hurt in the first quarter, and it was Smith’s turn. He was in for 27 plays, including when he made the defense’s biggest one.
"Me contributing to this win is really big for me," he said.
"I had to step up."
He did—straight into not only relevance but, with no one knowing when the 31-year-old Avril may return from his spinal issue, importance on Seattle’s defensive front.
"I don’t have any time line on that at all," Carroll said of Avril, "but we are going to take care of him and make sure we take our time and do this really well to look after him."
After what Smith did to Brissett and the Colts to turn that game into a Seahawks runaway, Seattle’s new number 97 is going to be playing more this Sunday along with fellow end Frank Clark. They’ll be trying to tackle dangerous running back Todd Gurley, surging second-year passer Jared Goff and the NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams, the league’s highest-scoring offense one quarter into this season.
"He got a legitimate chance (against the Colts) with a lot of play time and was a factor and made a huge play in the game," Carroll said. "We feel very fortunate to have him.
"Very fortunate. He is a talented player and he is really coming into the system now and comfortable with what we are doing. I’m really excited to see how he emerges."