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Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Seahawks' Smith ready to burst on the scene

Third-year linebacker could replace departed Hill in starting lineup

  • Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith (left) is battling for a starting job.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith (left) is battling for a starting job.

RENTON -- When the 2013 NFL draft rolled around, the Seattle Seahawks were a team with few perceived needs.
But one position at which the Seahawks seemed to need some help was linebacker, and particularly at the weakside 'backer spot. It was clear by then that Leroy Hill, Seattle's starter since 2005, was not going to be re-signed, leaving one of very few vacancies in Seattle's starting lineup on either side of the ball.
Yet after seven rounds and 11 draft picks, the Seahawks had the same number of linebackers on their roster as they did prior to draft weekend. So why not take a linebacker when there appears to be need there?
Well for starters, Seattle considered a couple of linebackers and instead signed several as undrafted free agents shortly after the draft concluded. But secondly, and more importantly, the Seahawks simply didn't see linebacker as a huge position of need.
Malcolm Smith started three games for Hill last year and played well, Korey Toomer spent his rookie year on the practice squad, but still has a lot of athletic upside, and head coach Pete Carroll has also said they'll use their "Leo" defensive ends Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin at linebacker some this year as well.
And sure enough, throughout Seattle's first minicamp and organized team activities, Smith has been a regular with the first-team defense, a look the Seahawks feel just fine about heading into the 2013 season.
"There's no question Malcolm is a weapon," said linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr. "I've been with Malcolm for a while, from USC to here, so I've watched him grow. I even recruited him out of high school, so I've got a lot of information on Malcolm. He's really fast, really smart, really confident, and as you saw last year, he can be a weapon on the field. He plays really good on special teams, he's a weapon on defense, so he's a guy we've watched grow in front of us. He's a guy we're really going to count on this year to use his speed and make a lot of plays."
Smith, a seventh-round pick out of USC in 2011, became a standout on special teams in his first two seasons, and he was solid as a fill-in for Hill last year. Now, with shot to earn a starting job, Smith is hoping to build off of what he learned over the past two years.
"You look at everything as an opportunity any time you get to play in the NFL, but if there is space for me to get more reps, then I'll definitely do my best to take advantage of them," he said. "... Going into your third year, you know you've got to be a professional all the time, you're going to be held accountable. It's a pivotal time for all of us, especially on this team because we really have aspirations to win a lot of games. We just want to make sure we play our part and do well."
Exactly how Smith will fit into Seattle's defense remains to be seen. The Seahawks have tinkered in these offseason workouts with using him at strongside linebacker while K.J. Wright, a two-year starter on the strongside, plays weakside linebacker. And the plan to use Avril and Irvin at linebacker at times will also mean less snaps for one of the three linebackers in the base defense.
Also, Antoine Winfield's ability to play the run as a nickel cornerback could lead to the Seahawks playing more snaps with five defensive backs and two linebackers on the field.
And perhaps a starting role that didn't involve being on the field for every single snap would be beneficial for Smith, who at 226 pounds is a bit on the light side for a linebacker. Though regardless of Smith's listed weight, Norton says, "stand next to him and you'll see that he's the prototype size linebacker."
Smith's draft stock was hurt by a perception that he isn't durable, and he did have some injuries at USC, but the bigger reason for his limited play in college was a rare esophagus disorder called achalasia that led to rapid weight loss until doctors were finally able to diagnose the disease and help him manage it through surgery and a special diet.
Yet even if that "fragile" label is unfair when it comes to Smith, he still knows he has to prove he can be on the field for an entire season to shed it.
"If you don't play every game, then they're going to say something's wrong for you," Smith said. "So the thing is to try to be out there every single game. That's my goal as far as health."
Smith was one of the reasons why, the day the draft ended without the Seahawks taking a linebacker, Carroll said of the position, "It wasn't necessarily a priority."
And after watching Smith work with the No. 1 defense throughout minicamps and OTAs, Norton agrees with Carroll's assessment.
"He's been clocked at a 4.4, and this guy is really smart," Norton said. "He's an Econ major, so he knows what's going on. He's a great combination of size and speed, and he's in year three now so he's ready to really burst out as a player."
Notable
Running back Marshawn Lynch, right tackle Breno Giacomini and cornerback Antoine Winfield were all absent from Monday's practice. Carroll was not available to the media, so no explanation for the absences was given. With Giacomini out, rookie Michael Bowie, a seventh-round draft pick, worked with the first-team offense at right tackle. Guard John Moffitt, who missed last week's workout that was open to the media because of a court appearance -- he faces misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass and obstruction stemming from a 2012 incident -- was back with the team.
Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » Seahawks

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