Bucs DE Corey Smith is the NFLEL's co-leader in sacks, but he is not yet satisfied with his play
A stranger in a strange land, Corey Smith has at times been unsure of his directions since arriving in Germany. He has, however, managed to get where he needs to go. Most notably, that would be the opposing backfield.
Three weeks into the 2004 NFL Europe League season, Smith is accelerating through a pair of parallel learning curves. On one hand are his efforts to learn the Berlin Thunder's defensive scheme and make an impact therein; on the other are his efforts to fit into his new surroundings. Both are going well, thanks to some very helpful people and Smith's own determination.
Statistics would suggest Smith is making rapid adjustments on the football field, as he shares the NFLEL lead with three sacks through two games. He is, however, his own harshest critic, and he's not completely satisfied with his play during Berlin's 2-0 start.
"I really haven't played like I want to yet, but I was surprised after the first game at how well I did," said Smith, who had two sacks in the Thunder's Week One 20-14 win over the Scottish Claymores. "I was kind of down on myself because I didn't think I played that well, but I had those two sacks. I haven't done what I want to do yet, but I'm still building off what I've seen."
After each NFL team had submitted its list of players to send to NFL Europe this spring, the six NFLEL teams held an allocated-players draft in February. Smith was the first player chosen, an indication of some very real potential to rush the passer. Having already worked extensively under Tampa Bay's highly-respected defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli, Smith is now getting some additional instruction in Europe from a different group of coaches.
"I've got coach Jim Tomsula (the defensive coordinator) - he's been here for six years, I think, and he knows a lot," said Smith. "He's shown me a lot of new things, so I'm just gathering information. And we have (Defensive Assistant) D'Marco Farr here, and he's teaching me a lot, too."
In the Thunder's second game, Smith added a third sack as the Thunder upended the Amsterdam Admirals, 28-17. Smith shares the league sack lead with two Frankfurt Galaxy ends, Bobby Setzer of the Oakland Raiders and Corey Jackson of the Cleveland Browns. Defenses have dominated early in the 2004 NFLEL season, with the six teams averaging a combined 285 yards of offense per game, and top allocated players like Smith are part of the reason why. It's no coincidence that the first six players in the allocated-player draft were defenders.
The first meeting between the three undefeated teams will occur this Saturday when the Galaxy plays host to the Rhein Fire. Meanwhile, Smith's Thunder will have a chance to go 3-0 when they play host to the Cologne Centurions. It can sometimes be difficult to get an early read on the relative strengths of the six NFLEL teams, since they are basically rebuilt each year, but Smith is certain after two weeks that his team is a real contender.
"Definitely, and I can tell because we've all really bonded together already," he said. "There are no cliques. Everyone gets along with each other – fullbacks talking to linebackers, that kind of thing. Everyone hangs out together and we have a really good chemistry. That tells me that we're a real good team, beside the fact that we have a lot of talent."
The Thunder's togetherness has also helped the American players adjust to German culture. The players often go out in groups, and they've already taken several sight-seeing trips, seeing the few remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, among other historical landmarks. Smith has found the local citizens to be extremely helpful, and he has been pleasantly surprised how many Berliners are both capable of and willing to speak English to him.
"It's different, real different," Smith admitted. "The food's different, the people speak different languages. But I'm getting used to it. The language has been the hardest part of the adjustment, going out and trying to order food, telling a taxi where you live, things like that.
"Almost everyone you run into is cool. They speak English to you and show you around, and they'll help you translate if you're talking to someone who doesn't speak English. They're really helpful to visitors."
Smith, who is staying in Teltow, just outside Berlin, made an effort to be adventurous in his menu choices during the first week in Germany but has since mixed McDonald's trips in more frequently. He's not likely to pick up too much of the language during his short stay, so he will continue to rely on the helpfulness of the Germans and the multi-lingual nature of Europe. He does plan to see more of Europe's living history before he returns to the states, though.
"I haven't seen everything yet, but I plan on doing that later," said Smith.