Tight end Lee Smith
Judging from his work on the gridiron, you might think you know Lee Smith, but the fact of the matter is there's much more than meets the eye with the 6'6", 265-pound Oakland Raiders tight end.
Originally drafted by the New England Patriots in the fifth-round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Smith was signed by the Silver and Black in 2015 as an unrestricted free agent, and he has had a significant impact on the team ever since.
When it comes to football, the Powell, Tenn., native is a bull you don't want to mess with. Smith has established himself as one of the best blocking tight ends in the game, and has that homegrown country strength that can intimidate you just by looking at him.
The Raiders offensive line was one of the best in the league last season, and as an extension of that group, Smith's relationship with the unit has grown the last couple years, but ask any one of them about him and they'll tell you he's a monster on the field.
"We look at him as the receiving offensive lineman," said guard Gabe Jackson when asked about Smith's game. "He brings great tenacity to the game, and attitude. So we always love playing with him because we always say he's crazy in a way, he's a great guy."
Last season, the team was only able to witness Smith's "craziness" for four games, after he injured his leg in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens, which ended up prematurely concluding his 2016 season.
Injuries are tough for any player, but for No. 86 it was especially difficult, given his relationship with his teammates. While he remained at the team's facility in Alameda, Calif., to rehab throughout the season, he felt different.
"The camaraderie is great," said Smith. "It was great being around doing my rehab and seeing the guys, but I wasn't out there battling with them every Sunday, so you kind of get to feeling disconnected."
Even though Smith's 18 career receptions as a member of the Silver and Black aren't astounding, it's what he does aside from his blocking, and work on the field, that makes him a dynamic component on the team.
Oakland Raiders players and coaches on the field for the fourth day of training camp.
The coaching staff is more than aware of how much he means to his peers, and the role he plays in helping this team be successful, and they're thrilled to have him back in the fold.
"Anytime a guy that brings so much spirit to the team is back, it's a good thing," said Head Coach Jack Del Rio. "He brings a lot of intangibles to the football team. He's a tough guy, he's a great teammate, he's very, very dependable. Having him back and having him healthy and out here doing his thing is good for us."
"First of all, he's a great teammate," added Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing, who emphasized Smith's impact on the group. "A wonderful veteran. He's a great blocker. He works hard at everything that we ask him to do. He actually has really good hands. He's more than just a blocking tight end."
While the praise of his coaches means a great deal to him, Smith relishes in making his teammates proud, and above all else earning their respect. The brawny tight end is humble by nature, and is always willing to defer to those around him.
"I'm not a flashy player, I never have been," said Smith. "[Wide receiver] Amari [Cooper], and [wide receiver Michael] 'Crab' [Crabtree], and [quarterback] Derek [Carr], and [defensive end] Khalil [Mack] are more than welcome to get all that glory, I like being behind the scenes. If my teammates have something nice to say about me because of the person I am, or the way I play, there's no bigger compliment to me in the world than that."
When you watch the way he interacts with his peers, it's genuine and sincere. Whether he's talking football or chopping it up, Smith is invested in not just his teammates, but his family. While football is important, the 29-year-old would rather leave a lasting, and influential, impression on his teammates.
It's because of this mentality that Smith has stepped up as a mentor for the younger players on the team, and tried to help them along in their maturation process the same way he was.
"I've had a lot of great mentors when I was a young player that I kind of tried to stick to," said Smith as he reflected for a moment. "I try not to beat them up too bad, or get on them, it's stressful being a young player, but until you get ingrained and kind of find your niche, or your role, and you make the team, and you play a significant amount of time, this time of year is stressful. It's hard on you mentally, and I just try to be there for those guys."
While he's trying to serve as a support system for "his guys," Smith is continually trying to improve himself, as well as make the team better. After missing a majority of the season last year, he feels robbed and ready to back in the mix, as this team strives for greatness.
As one of the more devoted and dedicated players in the league, Smith is savvy enough to realize there's no room for complacency in this business, and wants to make sure no one is settling for less.
"One of these days if the Oakland Raiders are number one in all those [offensive] statistics, then maybe we have finally nowhere else to go," he said. "But until that time comes we're always trying to get better. We're coming in here every day trying to creep to that next level, and make this football team better."