Akron CB Dwight Smith tied for the national lead with 10 interceptions last fall
Dwight Smith, the new Buccaneer cornerback with the anonymous surname from the lesser-publicized school. Sound familiar?
How about Donnie Abraham?
Like Smith, Abraham was a third-round pick, taken by the Buccaneers out of East Tennessee State in 1996. Abraham, of course, has developed into a Pro Bowl performer.
However, the more ideal comparison for Smith may be the another outstanding Buccaneers corner. "If fans want to get a picture of what this player is like, picture Ronde Barber but a bit bigger," said Director of College Scouting Tim Ruskell.
Barber, too, was a third-round pick, having come out of Virginia in 1997 with a reputation as a ball-hawking playmaker whose outright speed and run-support capabilities had been downgraded by some scouts. Barber, of course, has proven to be an extremely good tackler with more than capable speed. If anything, the Bucs' back-to-back success with third-round cornerbacks should encourage Tampa Bay fans in regards to Smith's future.
Like Barber, Smith was rated higher by the Buccaneers in terms of run support than most published pre-draft evaluations. Obviously, with a national lead-tying 10 interceptions last year, Smith is also a natural playmaker with an eye for the turnover. That combination, say the Buccaneers' personnel men, makes Smith a perfect fit in the team's system.
"At the combine, he was in the second group of cornerbacks," said Area Scout Joe DiMarzo, Jr. "He was the only one in that group to get to every ball and knock it down during his drill. He really fits well with what we do."
Moreover, Smith already appears to have the attitude necessary to fit into the Buccaneers' aggressive defensive unit.
"I love the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," he said. "I like how they get after the quarterback and get after the ball. That's the type of football I'm used to playing."
Smith is roughly the same height as Barber but has a stockier frame, something that both Ruskell and DiMarzo say makes him a rugged tackler.
"He has a different type of build," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "He's not going to look like a corner. He's going to be the thickest guy; he'll look more like a safety."
Smith sees no issue in playing the corner position at over 200 pounds. "I've always played the corner position, so it just comes natural to me," said Smith. "My weight is something that has always been there, so it's not like I just gained weight. It's nothing new to me."
Overall, Smith is not much bigger than most of his peers at the position. However, he does think he stands out in another category.
"I'm stronger than most corners," he said. "If a receiver lets me get my hands on him, then that allows me to do things. I'm stronger than most receivers."
Last year, Smith was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive back and was the Mid American Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. Those awards honored a remarkable senior season in which Smith started all 11 games and racked up 58 tackles, 10 interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, nine passes defensed. Smith also returned two of those picks for touchdowns.
For his career, Smith finished with 163 tackles, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 15 interceptions and 29 passes defensed. He also handled punt and kickoff returns on occasion for the Zips, averaging 21.7 yards on 38 career kickoff returns and 6.3 yards on 16 punt runbacks.
Those are the results of a complete player, in Dungy's estimation.
"This is a guy who has very good ball skills," he said. "We liked a lot of things about him and feel like he will fit into our style of play very well. Our defensive coaches liked him a lot and we're happy to have him.
"He's used to handling the ball. He's very confident in his hands. I think he's going to be a guy that's going to get some interceptions. With our pass rush, putting him into what we do and playing a lot of zone and seeing the quarterback, he'll be a guy that can come up with the ball for us."
That would make Smith a lot like Barber and Abraham. Dungy went back to that latter comparison when the issue of Smith's quality of competition arose.
"We took Donnie Abraham our first year from a small school in Tennessee," recalled Dungy. "He didn't have a lot of trouble coming up and covering these guys. I think if you get good players in this day and age, they can come from anywhere."