LB Malcolm Smith visited Disneyland a year and a half ago, and not just because he felt like it. The linebacker had just earned Super Bowl XLVIII MVP after dominating with 9 tackles (5 solo), 1 interception returned 69 yards for a touchdown, 1 pass defensed and 1 fumble recovery returned 7 yards. At the age of 24, Smith was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with the Seattle Seahawks and earning recognition as the most impactful player on the NFL's biggest stage.
The USC-alum would go on to experience a second Super Bowl in two years in 2015, although falling short 28-24 to the New England Patriots.
Obviously, Smith has extensive NFL playoff experience. He knows what it takes to win. The Raiders staff hopes he'll be able to pass that knowledge on to the less experienced players. "A guy that's been there at the highest level understands what it takes," said Head Coach Jack Del Rio. "So a guy like that, that's buying into your message and doing the things that need to be done and helping others, that's a positive factor for you."
|LB Malcolm Smith. Photo by Tony Gonzales|
Smith believes his playoff experiences have impacted how he approaches the game. "It made a huge difference because you understand what it takes to get to a certain point," Smith explained. "It's going to be important for us to know that it's an everyday thing. It's not going to be just on Sunday when everybody is watching. It's going to be every single day when you're away from the building, when you're in the building. When you're talking to your guys, what are you talking about? What's our focus? What's the main thing? And that's to win games, get to the playoffs and win the division."
One of the most important aspects of the Seahawks' success was their belief in each other. "When you really work hard every single day and you put the work in, you expect to be there," he said. "I can say with confidence that from our first playoff game to just the past Super Bowl that we lost as a group, I know we all expected to be there. We put in the work. We put the pressure on each other to be able to be in that position. That was our expectation for one another. That's the thing now is to get that attitude and that's what we're working on."
That attitude is being instilled by a familiar face for Smith – Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. – who was Smith's linebackers coach in Seattle from 2011-14 and at USC from 2007-2009. "He's done a great job so far [as defensive coordinator]," said Smith. "He obviously has a great amount of energy. I think the fans and everybody in the building appreciates when he comes to work because you can hear him coming. It's going to affect us and it's going to be contagious and we're going to play defense like that."
Smith knows what Coach Norton, Jr., expects on defense. "I understand the expectations and they're high; they're really high," said Smith. "He's going to be hard on us and he hasn't had a chance to yet, because we're just getting started, but I know it's coming. You can see it and there's going to be days where you might not want to look at him, but you know it's for a good reason and the benefit will be the product on the field."
Both Coach Norton, Jr., and Head Coach Del Rio are former NFL linebackers. To say there will be high standards for the linebacking corps is an understatement. "You have to be on point. I take it as a responsibility, like man, our defensive coordinator was a linebacker, our head coach was a linebacker, we have to be the standard," said Smith. "We have to be the standard for the entire team. We have to be able to be good on special teams and be in command on defense, so it's a higher standard for us."
High standards have been set for in Smith since college football, which both his defensive coordinator and head coach understand well. Coach Del Rio played linebacker at USC, while Coach Norton, Jr., was the linebackers coach from 2004-2009. "It's always special to be around other USC guys, other Trojans, because we just have an understanding of where we come from and the standard that's been set before us, the things we need to uphold as far as being part of a team and going out and competing," said Smith.
The Southern California-native has experienced the highest of highs in the NFL and he wants to return to that point, this time with the Oakland Raiders. "As a competitor, you obviously want to get back to those moments," said Smith. "Everything feels good when you're winning no matter how it goes, no matter how you got there, everything feels good. I'm just a competitor. I'm going to come out every day and work to get back to that point, as a team first and foremost."
Smith is embracing his new opportunity in Silver and Black and hopes he is able to showcase and pass on to the Raiders the winning attitude he knows and relishes. "It's special to be a part of this because it's very distinct imagery. It's something that really resonates with a lot of people, especially football fans," he explained. "We're supposed to bring the intensity. We're supposed to bring an attitude. We're supposed to play really hard every single game, every single time, and be competitive. Obviously the motto is to win games so that's what we're here to do, nothing else."