METAIRIE, La. — For a player like Will Smith, at 31 years old, the light on his career is beginning to dim.
He’s one of eight players 31 years or older on the Saints roster, the only players with 10 or more years NFL experience playing with New Orleans.
But you wouldn’t know it from watching him or even listening to him.
And now he’s changing positions, moving from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Three weeks into organized team activities and two days into minicamp, Smith isn’t complaining.
“I look forward to it,” Smith said. “It’s exciting. We’re doing something different but essentially I’m still doing the same thing that I’ve always done, which is primarily rush the passer. So, it just puts me in different situations to make more plays and I’m excited about it.”
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan singled out Smith and Junior Galette as the two players expected to deliver from the Jack outside linebacker position, the one that will be counted upon to harry whichever quarterback the Saints are playing.
In the position, the 6-foot-3, 282-pounder will be required to drop into coverage occasionally. He’s not worried about that aspect of the position, however, recalling he did the same thing early in his career under Jim Haslett.
“You can see the plays as they develop a little bit faster,” Smith said. “It’s just something different. I’ve always been a right defensive end my whole entire career. So this is different. I get to play on the left side, play on the right side, play in the middle a little bit. It just makes it a little bit more fun, more active.”
Smith had a clutch season in 2009, finishing fifth on the team with 77 tackles and 13 sacks. But then he slowed down, finishing with 70 tackles and then 52. He has 12 sacks combined in ’10 and ’11. A season ago, he improved his tackle total to 67, good for fifth on the club, and six sacks.
There was widespread belief that the Saints would cut ties with the veteran because of his high salary cap cost but the two sides agreed on a renegotiated contract keeping him in the fold.
Asked if he had to have his arm twisted to move from the defensive end to outside linebacker, Smith didn’t hesitate to say no.
“I’ve known who Rob has coached and the players he coached and I know the way defense works,” Smith said. “(The) 3-4 can be fun in a lot of ways and a challenge in a lot of ways also.”