A phone card only goes so far when one end of every call is in Germany and the other is in the United States. Whenever Corey Smith decides it's time to conserve his minutes, he makes a break for the computer.
Ah, instant messaging. Brad Johnson didn't have that option when he played in London during the early days of the World League of American Football – now known as NFL Europe – but Smith is just keeping up with the times. And with friends and family.
Smith is in Berlin this spring playing for that city's first-place team in the NFLEL, the Thunder. He's had a lot to talk about with his friends back home – his league-leading five sacks, his team's 4-0 record and his Week Four Defensive Player of the Week Award, for instance. Friends from the states can shoot back with info on the NFL Draft and the team that allocated Smith to NFL Europe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We've got calling cards, but when those run out I use the computer to do some IM-ing," said Smith. "That's mostly how I've been keeping in touch."
Smith's latest bit of news was about his weekly award, picked up after he had two sacks and the game-clinching forced fumble in Berlin's 14-10 victory over the Rhein Fire. He now has five sacks in four games, certainly making the Thunder happy that they used the first overall pick in February's allocated-player draft on the young Buc. Smith has already had two multiple-sack games, and that certainly is going to make his stock rise when he gets back to Florida and comes to training camp in July.
"Any time I can get an award in football, it always means something to me," said Smith. "It means I'm doing my job.
"But I'd still probably say that I'm not satisfied with my game yet. I've been getting sacks in the fourth quarter, but I really want to dominate the whole game. When I do that, I'll be where I want to be."
Smith has remained productive despite a slight shoulder injury that has required some treatment and cut deeply into his sightseeing time. With his help, the Thunder have allowed less than 260 yards of offense per game; against the Fire, they were touched for just 182.
Even with those numbers, the Thunder only shares the league lead in total defense with the 0-4 Scottish Claymores. A month into the 2004 European circuit, defenses have ruled the day on most weekends.
"Yeah, you've been seeing defenses take over some of the games, especially with turnovers," said Smith, who sacked Dallas Cowboys QB Chad Hutchinson late in the fourth quarter Saturday, thwarting a potential game-winning drive with a forced fumble. "There are some pretty good offenses over here, but the defenses have really been key, getting picks and running them back, that kind of thing."
By dousing the Fire's last chance, the Thunder took over sole possession of first place. The Frankfurt Galaxy, which had also started the year 3-0, lost a lengthy overtime game to the Amsterdam Admirals, 21-17 (NFL Europe awards four points for a field goal of over 50 yards) on Sunday.
"I guess we're the team that everybody wants to shoot for now," said Smith. "The other teams want to make their mark by beating us. I heard the guys up at the Frankfurt game were saying, 'Berlin's next.' That's always going to happen when you're on top of the standings."
In his downtime, Smith has managed to keep up with the Bucs. Though he didn't have much information on his new teammates, the eight players drafted on Saturday and Sunday, he did get a first-hand scouting report on first-round pick Michael Clayton. Berlin quarterback Rohan Davey – one of the early candidates for 2004 NFLEL MVP – was Clayton's teammate at LSU in 2001, when the Tigers won the SEC.
"I saw a little bit of the draft," said Smith. "I saw the first three rounds in the paper the next day. It looks like we did well. We got some players we needed, I think. I don't really know the guys that we picked offhand, but Rohan Davey said the wide receiver we got is really good, and I trust his judgment. Rohan said he's a real big guy, and speedy, and he's got a good attitude about football."
What Smith hasn't seen as much of as he would like is the sights of Berlin and the rest of Germany and the old continent. He had to skip a recent, very significant sightseeing trip to get work on his shoulder.
"Some of the guys went to the concentration camps," said Smith. "I wanted to go, but I had to get treatment. A lot of the guys said it was very interesting. They got to tour the camp and heard all about what went on there. I wish I could have gone.
"We also went to Amsterdam (for a game), but it wasn't really a sightseeing trip. It's like the NFL – it was a business trip. We were there to win a game."