New Orleans Saints’ Will Smith hopes this isn’t year’s last hurrah

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune November 27, 2008 6:49PM

Will Smith has not had a big season statistically, but he has been battling injuries for much of the season.

Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay might be the last hurrah this year for Saints defensive end Will Smith, who is facing a possible four-game suspension for the final four weeks of the regular season. But he said that won’t give him any extra incentive to “leave it all on the field.”

“I leave it all out there every game, so if I was to say that, that would mean I’m taking it easy the rest of the other games, ” Smith said. “Every game you’ve got to go out and play hard and do what you want to do. In this profession, you never know when your last game is, so you’ve got to go out and give it your all every week.”

For the record, Smith still believes he and teammates Deuce McAllister and Charles Grant can avoid their looming suspensions by winning the appeal they made to the league office last week in New York.

The three Saints players tested positive this summer for the banned diuretic bumetanide, which can be used to mask steroids in urine samples. But they claim the substance came from an over-the-counter weight-loss product called StarCaps, which advertises itself as all-natural and does not list the banned substance on its label.

That controversy is just one of several reasons why this has been the most frustrating season of Smith’s five-year career, but you won’t hear him complain.

Smith, who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season, signed the richest contract in Saints history this offseason, a seven-year deal with a maximum value between $60 million and $70 million if he reaches all incentives.

He has had his worst statistical season to date, though, with just 3 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble through 11 games.

Smith lost his longtime running mate, fellow defensive end Grant, to a season-ending triceps injury last month. Smith also has been battling an abdominal/groin strain since early September, an injury that he didn’t want to talk about, but Coach Sean Payton reluctantly revealed this week.

“There are a lot of issues that go on that you deal with that aren’t really public knowledge, ” Smith said. “You have to fight through those other issues and go out and play and do your best on Sundays. What happens happens, and your team knows what’s going on and all that stuff. So as long as everybody’s on the same page and knows that you’re busting your butt, I think it’s fine.”

Teammates and coaches indeed have been praising Smith this season. Rookie defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis said he is a great teacher and leader for the defensive line and pointed out that he has stepped up big in some big moments — like the two stops he made during the Saints’ two goal-line stands at Kansas City two weeks ago.

Assistant defensive line coach Travis Jones said Smith has remained a high-energy, motivated worker who hasn’t let the challenges wear on him this season.

“Will’s got one of those mentalities on game day where he’s a warrior, ” Jones said. “He’s got a look in his eye that when the ball kicks off, you don’t want to be in his path. And it’s exciting to be around a guy like that who has that type of intensity on game day.”

The Saints have 20 sacks this season, which ranks tied for 22nd in the NFL.

Part of the reason for the lack of sacks is the quarterbacks and offenses they’ve faced. Guys like Denver’s Jay Cutler, San Diego’s Philip Rivers, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Tampa Bay’s Jeff Garcia and Carolina’s Jake Delhomme do a good job of releasing the ball quickly and avoiding the sack.

When the Saints have faced quarterbacks who tend to stay in the pocket longer, such as San Francisco’s J.T. O’Sullivan, Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City’s Tyler Thigpen, they’ve taken advantage.

Smith, who racked up 33.5 sacks and 12 forced fumbles in his first four seasons, said of course he wants to put more quarterbacks in the ground, like any competitor. But he said he hasn’t had to fight the urge to get down on himself.

“When you don’t have them, it just makes you try harder and encourages you to do more things to try to make things happen, ” Smith said. “As far as being satisfied, I’m never really satisfied with anything. Even when I do play good, I think I can always play better. Never get too satisfied and never get too down. Just try to always stay on an even keel.”

If this is indeed Smith’s final game of the regular season, he’d sure like to end on a high note.

A victory would put the Saints at 7-5 and give them a fighting chance to make the playoffs — leaving open the door for Smith and McAllister to return in the postseason, even if they do lose their appeal.

GLENN PLACED ON IR: The Saints placed cornerback Aaron Glenn on injured reserve Thursday, and they activated defensive end Josh Savage from the practice squad.

Glenn, who has been battling an ankle injury for most of the season, is the 14th member of the Saints’ injured reserve list this season. The 15th-year veteran, who signed with the Saints in free agency this year, played in four games, mostly as a nickel back. He injured his ankle in Week 2 at Washington, then he re-injured it at Atlanta three weeks ago.

Savage, 28, has been with the Saints for the past two seasons, mostly on the practice squad. He was active for one game last season and two in September, but he played sparingly on defense and special teams.

The 6-foot-4, 276-pounder will likely replace Jeff Charleston as the No. 3 defensive end in Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay. Charleston missed practice again Thursday with a foot injury. Savage might be needed for the rest of the season if Smith serves a suspension.

The Saints replaced Savage on the practice squad with tight end Kolo Kapanui.

PRACTICE REPORT: Charleston and fullback Mike Karney (knee) were the only two players who did not participate in Thursday’s practice. Tailback Reggie Bush participated on a limited basis and still appears to be on track to play Sunday. The Saints went through a light practice with no pads and no helmets. The players were dismissed early Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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