By the very nature of a concussion, not remembering something comes as part of the territory for
Smith doesn’t remember much about the scary concussion and neck injury he suffered against Dallas on Oct. 23 of last year. He knows he traveled home with the team. He knows it ended his season prematurely for the second time in three years. Most of all, he knows that it’s changed his entire outlook not only football but on life.
“You can write this: I have a new outlook on life by faith,” Smith said. “Write that.”
So it was that Smith arrived to the team’s minicamp yesterday and again Wednesday a changed man. The changes go much deeper than a haircut, a shave and a seemingly more chiseled frame.
The injury unquestionably hampered Smith’s progress in his third year in the league. It also has left the Rams with a big question mark at right tackle heading in to coach Jeff Fisher’s first season.
It’s no secret that as a former No. 2 overall pick, Smith comes with a pretty hefty price tag entering this season and the need to free up salary to sign free agents was clear heading into the start of the new league year.
Yet when the Rams purged some costly veterans, Smith remained. He had been cleared to resume football activities and he has already made a strong impression on Fisher and general manager Les Snead, both of whom seem willing to give Smith another shot to solidify his position.
“Yeah, he’s good,” Fisher said. “He’s been here, he’s been working. He’s been working very well inside and his condition level is excellent. We’re excited about a new start for him, if you will.”
Fisher isn’t the only one excited about a new beginning. Nobody is more excited about it than Smith. In fact, during an interview with a pair of reporters on Tuesday afternoon, excited was the word Smith most often repeated whether it was pertaining to being back on the football field, the new coaching staff or some of his teammates.
“I am happy they decided to keep me around so I am a new face, I’m a new, happy guy here,” Smith said.
Regardless, Smith made it clear he knows as well as anyone that the slate is wiped clean and he has a chance to claim his position for good.
“I am excited about the future,” Smith said. “I am excited about where I am right now, where I am mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I am just going to combine those things and just be who I am and who I am supposed to be.”
While Smith is clearly bullish on his future and the next opportunity, he was equally down on the idea of discussing the past and the injury that cost him his 2011 seasons.
When asked repeatedly about the concussion and the resulting aftermath, Smith speaks about it to a point but then turns his attention to the future.
“The reality was it was a freakish accident,” Smith said. “It was what it was but the great thing is what is it now? It’s the past. It’s something I had to go through. I am just excited. I’m excited to be back walking, feeling good, wife not having to drive me around. There are a lot of things I’m just excited about.”
Fisher acknowledged Wednesday that Smith is getting his chance to work again back at right tackle. Smith worked there over the past couple of days and seemed to have a little extra pep in his step.
The process of recovering from the concussion was a lengthy one, one that Smith said had plenty of starts and stops but the injury was also one that Smith recognizes could have been much worse.
“By faith, I was cleared the moment I got up,” Smith said. “Doctors wise, it was a process. Some of the details of it I wasn’t able to see clearly. I wasn’t able to move my neck. I wasn’t about to turn all the way around. Those things had to take place, the healing process before I got cleared. Once that took place I was cleared and ready to work out again.”
Upon being cleared to work out again, Smith has turned his attention to figuring out how to get better every day. He’s well aware of the expectations that came with his lofty draft status but he doesn’t allow himself to be concerned with those things.
Instead, Smith is doing everything he can to learn from new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Boudreau is known for a hard-nosed coaching style that simply gets results. In fact, Boudreau has had great success with players far less talented than Smith.
Boudreau’s presence is a big part of the reason Fisher and Co. are confident that they can draw Smith’s best football from him in 2012 and beyond.
Although Smith and the rest of the offensive line are just starting to get to know Boudreau, it’s apparently been made clear right away what’s expected of them moving forward.
“Couch Boudreau, he’s sound, he’s a technician, he’s determined,” Smith said. “If you look at his offensive lines in the past, it speaks for itself. He’s my new boss now. I enjoy him. He’s teaching us, he’s showing us, he’s demanding it and we are doing it. I am expecting a change in my performance.”
A new tutor isn’t the only thing Smith is banking on helping him reach his potential.
“There are a lot of things,” Smith said. “Everybody wants to be strong. I want to work on my relationship with the players to become a better teammate, a better friend in some areas. And then in some areas, stricter, stricter in my performance and the details of my work. Then I need to be more fluid and relaxed. I need to relax and play ball and stop thinking about all those technical things and just play.”
When asked whether Smith had a knack for over thinking things in the past and if that held him back, he initially bristled at the suggestion but relented and acknowledged the importance of being a little more instinctive and just letting natural talent and ability take over.
“That’s what you need to be as a person,” Smith said. “There’s no reason for anybody to walk around stuck up and scared. I can’t accurately keep the quarterback clean if I am tense. It’s just little things like that I want to perfect.”
In some ways, Smith’s history of injuries has kept him from reaching the potential that landed him in St. Louis as the No. 2 overall draft pick in the first place. Those injuries haven’t allowed for a complete picture of what kind of player he can be in the NFL to develop just yet.
Still, it’s clear Smith knows this season will be a big one for him.
“My whole deal is being professional at my job, coming out here ready to work and then carrying over what I learn on the practice field and what I do on the practice field to games,” Smith said. “Then when the game comes, go out there and play, have fun, keep the quarterback clean and move people around for the running back, rejoice with your teammates when you score, rejoice about winning, things like that and looking at where we want to be and not where we are.”
A new start on a number of levels could be just the tonic for Smith as he looks to take the next step in his career. As far as he’s concerned the injuries and misses of the past are already forgotten and now is the time to take hold of this opportunity.
“I’m just happy,” Smith said. “I want to do my job. I want to do great. I want to be excellent. That’s what I can do for the team. I am just happy to be part of this team. I am happy to be part of the Rams all over again.”