Oakland Raiders LB Malcolm Smith (53) drops San Diego Chargers RB Donald Brown for a loss during the Raiders Dec. 24, 2015, victory in Oakland.
The 2015 campaign was a season of firsts for the Oakland Raiders – on the defensive side of the football in particular.
It was the first season under the guidance of defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., and it was also the first year in Silver and Black for numerous defensive players – including linebacker Malcolm Smith.
After an impressive Training Camp in Napa, Smith earned a starting job on defense, eventually starting all 16 games in his first season in the Bay Area.
Smith – and the Raiders' defense as a whole – improved as the season wore on, and they are now hoping to build on that positive momentum heading into 2016, particularly after General Manager Reggie McKenzie delivered an impressive free agent haul.
"We have a lot of great, individual players, and that's great, but we just have to play well together," Smith told Greg Papa and John Lund on 95.7 The Game Monday afternoon on the heels of the first day of the Offseason Workout Program. "We have to be really good in that scheme, and all those guys have had success individually, and played at a really high level, and obviously, team success as well. We want to get to that point where we have a defense full of guys that people know their names and respect their game."
McKenzie certainly signed a group of players who are respected around the league, from Kelechi Osemele and Bruce Irvin to Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith.
"Sean has a lot of experience in the division," Smith explained. "He's played at a really high level, and obviously, he's got a lot of great things that you don't find in a lot of corners. He's probably the biggest corner I've seen, and I've seen some big ones, and he's right up there."
In addition to Sean Smith, the Silver and Black's defense added another formidable piece through free agency in linebacker Bruce Irvin – a player that Smith is very familiar with.
The pair spent three seasons together in Seattle playing for the Seahawks under then-linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr., and Smith knows exactly the type of player Irvin is and what he can bring to the table for the Raiders.
"[He's a] strong, fast, just really physically impressive, smart player," Smith said about Irvin. "He's not going to make mistakes. He's a smart football player. He's going to get after the quarterback rushing, and he's going to make big plays in big situations. He's one of those guys that you can expect when the game's on the line, he'll bear down and be really close to the quarterback and he'll get him."
Were the Raiders an improved team in 2015? Yes.
Did they reach all their goals in the process? No.
Heading into 2016, expectations surrounding the team are high – as they should be – but even after an impressive haul in free agency, Smith knows that Super Bowls aren't won on paper, they're won the field in the fall.
"It was a great month of March, but there are no games played in March, so I think that our focus will be the work that we put in," Smith said. "It's more about the work. It's more about what we can do to get better as a team."