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John DeShazier: Will Smith transition looks more solid by the day

Like veteran predicted, switch to outside linebacker in 3-4 system not that big of change

Progress and production in a new system at this time of year generally are accompanied by several disclaimers, in no particular order. Specifically:

It's early; an inordinate amount of praise shouldn't be distributed for preseason success.
And there still is much learning to be done.

And opposing offenses haven't schemed against the system/player.

The underlying theme and possible reality is, today's smooth road will be pothole-filled tomorrow and with knee-jerk reaction being what it is, today's hero will be tomorrow's chum for a fan base starved for team success and individual production.

But disclaimers aside, the Will Smith transition looks more solid by the day and practice.
When the veteran defensive end was asked after nine seasons to take his hand off the ground, stand up and move to outside linebacker in the Saints' base, 3-4 defense, the legitimate concern was whether he seamlessly could make the adjustment.

Smith said that he could, and that he wouldn't be taking on assignments that substantially would be different than the ones he always had carried out. So far, after a couple of preseason games, he seems to be fitting as well as projected.
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"I feel fine," Smith said. "Like I said, the majority of the time I'm rushing the passer, and every now and then I drop back in coverage and try to guard those speedsters. But I don't do that much. I do what I've been doing the last nine years, rushing the passer.
"They wanted me rushing the passer and playing the run. They're going to require me to drop in different coverages and do different things from time to time but for the most part, I'm going to be doing the same thing I've always done. That's why I always said it wasn't that big of a transition."

He showed that against the Raiders in the second preseason game, when he recorded a couple of tackles and a sack, with a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. Dealing with speedsters wasn't an issue he was forced to deal with against the Raiders, but, as Smith said, it likely isn't an issue that he often will have to confront.

"There's enough defense and enough packages – outside just the 3-4, where he's playing one of the outside linebacker positions – (where) he ends up in an end position in some of the sub-packages," Coach Sean Payton said. "He plays the point of attack well and for the handful of snaps that he ends up in space, I think he's becoming more comfortable with that.\

"If you take any one of these teams that are in a 3-4 front, the minute that you get into your sub-packages, these outside linebackers generally become ends in the pass rush. Their base position would be at that Sam or Will (linebacker) and the minute that we break out of that front, most all of them are trained to be at that end position in the sub."

That's where Smith is most comfortable. It's where he knew he'd be, when he calmly spoke of being familiar with many of the responsibilities associated with his new position. And it's why, disclaimers aside, there's reason to believe the position switch can work for him.

"The last three or four seasons, I've been mostly a four-technique, five-technique defensive end," he said. "I had to take on a lot of double teams and do a lot of things that I hadn't done earlier in my career.

"Now, I'm mostly just a pass rusher, up against tight ends and running backs and different things, so it makes it a lot easier for me to pass rush and do the things that I do well."

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