Who needs minicamps or training camp, anyway?
Apparently not Malcolm Smith.
The Seahawks linebacker missed all of those rehabilitating from surgery in the spring on his ankle. Tuesday, with the “camp” part of the preseason a week past and the NFL season opener against Green Bay at CenturyLink Field just over two weeks away, Smith got his first full work on the field with his defense since February’s Super Bowl.
And it was a show. He looked like he did while becoming the biggest game’s most valuable player 61/2 months ago. Maybe even better.
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Smith ran across the middle of the practice field at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center from left to right, tightly trailing his assigned receiver during a team scrimmage. The pass from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was high and behind his target — high and behind Smith, too. Smith leaped and in one, brilliantly athletic motion pulled his left arm up and back to cuff the ball out of the air with his hand and wrist. He somehow kept his balance while returning to the turf, then zoomed past the stunned offense, stunned coaches, stunned water boys and everyone else to the end zone directly outside the locker room.
His fellow linebackers, even those who weren’t in for the play, ran down the field to jump on Smith in the end zone. All-Pro safety Earl Thomas ran 50-plus yards to join in the fun. The defensive players — starters and reserves alike — gleefully chanted “MVP! MVP!”
The only thing missing from Tuesday compared to Smith’s interception of Peyton Manning and return for a score in the Super Bowl was a goal post over which to dunk the football.
Not too shabby for his first time in full participation with the Seahawks since he became the ninth defensive player (two defenders shared the award in Super Bowl XII) in 48 Super Bowls to win the game’s MVP award in February.
“Just doing my job,” Smith said, shrugging. “I haven’t seen it yet (on film).
“It’s never as good as it feels.”
This one was.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn kept using one word Tuesday to describe Smith’s return: awesome.
“It’s awesome to have him back out here,” Quinn said. “I think one of the things that Malcolm brings to us is that speed and athletic ability. I think that showed (Tuesday) on the interception he had, but that’s a typical play for Malcolm which we’ve grown accustomed to seeing for him.”
OK, maybe not exactly typical.
Nothing is anymore for Smith.
How many Super Bowl MVPs are final-round draft picks? In 2011, Pete Carroll’s second draft as Seattle’s coach and chief personnel evaluator, he took what amounted to a flyer on Smith in the seventh round because he had known him since — as Carroll joked Monday — “about fourth grade.”
Smith, the younger brother of former USC wide receiver and 2008 New York Giants Super Bowl champion Steve Smith, grew up in Northridge, California. Carroll had recruited him near the end of the last decade to USC.
In yet another of Carroll’s strokes that have become golden with the Seahawks, that “flyer” is soaring three-plus years later.
Everyone remembers Richard Sherman tipping a Colin Kaepernick pass in the end zone away from San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree with 22 seconds left in January’s NFC championship game. Many forget it was Smith who ran about 15 yards downfield and into the end zone to turn Sherman’s deflection from a first-down incomplete pass for the 49ers into a Super Bowl-clinching interception for the Seahawks.
Then came Smith’s 10 tackles, one fumble recovery and that interception of the monumental Manning in the Super Bowl, the last of which turned a 15-0 game into a 22-0 runaway by halftime.
So what he did Tuesday morning, three days before Seattle’s third exhibition game, against Chicago, merely reinforced why Seattle’s defense just got a lot healthier in more ways than one with Smith’s return.
“In nickel (defense with five defensive backs), that’s where he can be real factor behind the ball especially in the pass game,” Quinn said. “So it’s awesome to have him back out there.”
Carroll has said the surgery was to clean up “loose bodies” in Smith’s ankle. Smith said the injury just sort of “caught me off guard” following the Super Bowl but that his ankle did not bother him at all last season when he had 50 tackles, most in his three-year career.
“It took me longer than I expected to get back,” he said. “But it’s not easy to get out here playing football.
“I’ve been itching. Coming off a pretty good game and we do some great stuff in the Super Bowl, it was just a lull for me. A lot of down time. A lot watching. A lot of learning, dealing with my own emotions and stuff every day.”
A “pretty good” game, his Super Bowl? That’s like saying his play Tuesday was “satisfactory.”
Such is Smith’s understated nature.
The fame that accompanied being the unexpected Super Bowl MVP — the gifts that included an expenses-paid trip to Disney World and a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country truck? Well, he loved Disney World, especially the roller coasters. But he gave the truck to his mother Audrey so she could customize it in “gun-metal (paint) with the black rims,” as he told TMZ a week after he got it in February.
Otherwise, he said that Malcolm Smith, Super Bowl MVP isn’t much different from Malcolm Smith, overlooked, seventh-round draft choice.
“My life hasn’t changed. A lot of people care about you a little bit more,” he said. “Other than that, not much.”
So there wasn’t a Malcolm Smith Day back home in Northridge, home to A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon film producer Brian Grazer, NFL quarterback Matt Cassell, NBA players Jason and Jarron Collins, Major League Baseball pitchers Jeff and Jered Weaver — and, “ayyyyy,” Bob Brunner, the television producer who created “Fonzie” on Happy Days?
“No,” Smith said, smiling, “no Malcolm Smith Day. There are a lot more famous people where I’m from.”
But none of them have pulled off what he did on Tuesday. With or without a training camp.