These days, it’s hard to be Anthony Smith. He made one somewhat -misguided comment last year that got sucked into the New England hype machine and now he’s probably the most hated Steeler. He certainly didn’t make things any easier on himself when he sucked it up down the stretch last year and did a lot of watching receivers run right by him. Smith ended up getting benched.
Fast forward to training camp this season and Smith is in hot water again. He layed a hit on Hines Ward during a 7-on-7 drill that caused a stir among the players. Ward went down to the ground, but this wasn’t a bone breaking hit like we’ve seen Smith do several times to opposing players. Ward was still smiling was he was laying on the ground, it looked the hit surprised him more than anything else (Norm and I were in Latrobe, about 75 feet away when this went down so trust me here).
Anyway, the Smith-Ward collision has stirred up some old frustrations among fans and the media. Gene Collier recently wrote a column that critiziced Smith pretty intensely. Via PG:
If you can’t get through a preseason game with any expectation of avoiding serious injury, you should at least be able to get through a practice without having to watch your four-time All Pro receiver and the competitive soul of the offense absorb a bone-rattling cheap shot from the notorious Smith.
But this week’s training camp thuggery at the expense of one of the franchise’s most decorated veterans smells to me like strike three.
…after Wednesday, I couldn’t figure out why Smith should be allowed back on the field with this team.
Wow. Needless to say, Collier doesn’t care much for Smith.
This column gets under my skin for several reason and apparently I’m not the only one. Mike Tomlin took great exception to the word “thuggery” used by Collier.
“He’s very sensitive to it, and guys are sensitive to it,” Tomlin said of Smith. “His actions were referred to as ‘thuggery.’ We take offense to that.
“These are young professional people who are very good at what they do, who are very sensitive to how they are portrayed in the public light. I was offended by that reference. He’s not a thug. He’s a young professional football player … who happens to play very physical.”
Said Smith: “I never mugged anybody or robbed anybody. I got a clean record. I don’t know how I would be classified as a thug.”
I couldn’t agree more with Tomlin here. Anthony Smith is a physical football player with an edge. Pacman Jones is a thug. Ray Lewis is a thug. Anthony Smith can’t be accused of that.
Also, isn’t this the type of player that the Steelers and Steeler fans covet? The team has always taken so well to players who fit the same type of mold. There are tons of stories from the Steel Curtain Era about huge hit in training camp from guys like Lambert and Blount. These are physical football players who only know one gear. Anthony Smith might be far less talented, but he’s built the same way.
Hines Ward will be hit four or five times harder than that in every preseason game that he plays in this year. Remember, these guys are playing football. It is a physical sport. These types of things happen when angry, muscular men are sprinting around wearing pads and helmets. I don’t care if it was a full contact drill or not. When two guys both sprint to the same point to try and catch a football, things like this happen.
The worst thing in this whole bizarre drama is that none of this would be a big deal if it wasn’t for the New England thing last year. Even if you don’t think that the reporters pulled that quote out of Smith, is there really anything wrong with being confident and expecting to win a football game?
If memory serves me right, here’s what Smith was “guilty” of during the New England week:
1. Said that the Steelers would win and that he was 100% sure of it.
2. Gave up multiple long passes involving Tom Brady – probably the greatest QB I’ve seen and Randy Moss – a HOF-talented receiver having the best year out of any WR ever to play the game.
Is there really a problem with any of these two issues? How many people did the Patriots make look silly last year? Every single team they played (even the Giants the first time during the regular season)!
Anthony Smith is a pretty decent young football player who has some things to learn like most NFL athletes his age do. He’s got a hard edge to the way he plays. But he’s got the ability to be a smashmouth safety that every defense wants. Throwing him under the bus – or kicking him off the team ASAP, as suggested be Collier – would be an idiotic move that the Steelers would certainly regret.
Smith is either going to be laying weak shoulder bumps into Hines Ward in August or he’ll be levying a devasting helmet-to-helmet hit on him in November while wearing a Browns jersey. Apparently Gene Collier and lots of other misguided fans would prefer the later.