Offense, defense, special teams — rookie Smith does it all


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Sutton Smith works through a drill during Steelers OTAs – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Let us begin with a list:

Jonathan Dwyer
Antonio Brown
Keith Williams
Justin Brown
Vince Williams
Jordan Zumwalt
Daniel McCullers
Leterrius Walton
Anthony Chickillo
• Travis Feeney
Colin Holba
• Sutton Smith
• Isaiah Buggs
• Ulysees Gilbert

That, Lunatics, is every sixth-round draft pick made by the Steelers since 2010. It's not exactly inspiring, is it? Brown is the All-Pro exception here, then there's a dropoff to "starter-quality" with Vince Williams before hitting the "special teams/fringe 53-man-roster player" tier with Dwyer, Chickillo and McCullers. After that, it's a whole lotta "yikes" and "who?" leaving this year's class of Smith, Buggs and Gilbert with plenty of work to do as the Steelers head into training camp, beginning July 25 in Latrobe.

Despite the odds, Smith feels confident in his current standing, largely thanks to his versatile skill set on display early in OTAs and minicamp. In addition to his natural outside linebacker position, Smith has played special teams and ... fullback? While many onlookers — myself included — were surprised when Smith took reps at that position, the move didn't surprise Smith himself.

"Coming into this process, I had teams saying, 'Hey, we might want to try you out at fullback,' stuff like that," Smith was telling me beside his locker at the Rooney Complex during Steelers OTAs. "The more versatile I can be, the better off I'll be, so I think that if I keep going with that route and also playing outside linebacker, special teams, whatever else they need, I'll be all right."

On that level, I wondered if Smith's versatility could actually hurt him. I know, I know. Weird thought. But let me explain: This is the time for rookies to learn their positions, to digest the playbook and to get comfortable with the processes the Steelers employ. That's tough to do for a rookie who's trying to learn just one position. But with Smith essentially learning three? That could actually hinder his development, right?


"It helps. A lot," Smith fired back with precisely zero hesitation when I asked. "It helps a lot, just because it makes you more valuable to the team and everything like that."

Making his transition smoother is a host of veteran players and coaches inside a strong, encouraging locker room. The term "chemistry" has been thrown around endlessly throughout OTAs, and nearly every player I talked to had an overwhelmingly positive response when I asked his thoughts on that dynamic.

"We hang out a lot off the field, and I think that kind of builds that relationship," T.J. Watt was telling me. "There’s nothing fake out here. This is all real emotion. We truly care about each and every guy out here, and I think that’s why you see us having so much fun.”

Even the new guys feel it.

"I can say they have good chemistry here," freshly acquired cornerback Steven Nelson was saying. "Everybody — and myself — [get along] only because a lot of guys have been here training in the offseason, so that’s when you spend a lot of time bonding with each other.”

Smith is no exception. He mentioned how much he enjoys "hanging out with the guys" on and off the field, and he complimented the team's overall commitment to building strong relationships in the early goings.

"They're very friendly," Smith was saying. "Like you said, they welcome you in with open arms here. We've had multiple team events that we go to and hang out with the vets and stuff like that, so I think it's been a fun ride so far and they're just, they're a welcoming group. I can't say enough good things about them."

Despite all the camaraderie and good vibes so far, Smith understands he's here for one thing and one thing only: To make plays on the football field. Whether that comes at linebacker, on special teams or at fullback, he certainly sounds ready to deliver. With training camp looming, you could practically see Smith's eyes twitch with giddy anticipation when I asked if he could feel the intensity beginning to rev.

"We get to put the pads on for the first time, so it's going to be fun," Smith said. "We're going to see who belongs and who doesn't when we go there, and it's just going to be a fun time. It's time to work whenever you get there. There's no going back. You just gotta grind it out and do the best that you can and try to learn your position even that much more."

BONUS VIDEO: Smith breaks down the 'speed of the game' at the NFL level: 

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