DE Corey Smith is aware that his fellow Bucs are also performing well in the NFL Europe League
Corey Smith, in Germany this spring to play for the Berlin Thunder, has yet to taste defeat in the NFL Europe League. He has also yet to taste as much of the local cuisine as he intends to, nor has he seen too many of the sights yet. All of that is on the agenda to be completed before the NFLEL season is through in June, but his focus so far has been on football.
There is one area, however, in which you could call Smith a European convert: Football. Not American Football. Soccer.
Smith admits that the few times he tried to watch soccer in the states led to an unanticipated nap about halfway through the match. After a month and a half in Europe, however, he's caught the bug. Obviously, he's not alone.
"I'm really getting into this soccer thing, actually, just watching it on TV a lot," said Smith, who was allocated to the NFLEL by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "It's pretty interesting. They show classic soccer games like we have classic sports on ESPN, and that's kind of interesting.
"The game has been the same for a long time, and it's been the number-one sport in the world all that time. I didn't really watch it before I came over here. I mean, I'd watch a little, but I'd fall asleep in the middle. But now I'm paying attention to it and I know what's going on."
If Smith still falls under the category of casual fan for soccer, he's been intensely studying his own brand of football since crossing the pond. Blessed with outstanding speed and a good feel for the pass rush, Smith was sent to the NFLEL to get the kind of live-game action that will hopefully hone his game and put him in position to once again win a roster spot with the Buccaneers this fall.
Smith is trying to make the most of the experience. While his six sacks in five games (second in the NFLEL) would suggest he's had instant success, the former North Carolina State standout is trying to improve every week.
"I'm keying on when and when not to use certain moves – reading offensive tackles and getting a feel for what moves will work," he said. "I've been working on my pass-rush moves, but you need to try them out at game speed. Practice is good, but you don't always get the looks you need and you can't always tell what's really working. I need to know what moves work and, more importantly, when during the game they work."
As Smith himself points out, most of the moves he's been using have worked near the end of games for the 5-0 Berlin Thunder. His three sacks in the last two weeks, for instance, all came late in the fourth quarter. Those often prove to be game-deciding plays, but Smith would prefer to make more of an impact early in the contest.
"I was more happy at the beginning of this game than any of the others, but I still need to be more dominant in the first and second quarters," he said. "I got another sack in the fourth quarter, but I want to produce more in the first half, and I'm still working on that. As far as the other parts of defense, like stopping the run, I felt like this was my best game."
Smith was the first player taken in the allocated players draft in February, awarded to Berlin because the Thunder had the league's worst record in 2003. Fortunes can change quickly in the NFLEL, of course, because the annual roster turnover is so severe, and now the Thunder is in first place, the only undefeated team at the season's halfway point. That means Smith and his Berlin teammate from the Bucs, center Ben Claxton, have a good shot at earning an extra week in Europe to play in World Bowl XII.
Even if the Thunder fail to earn a World Bowl berth (the two spots go to the pair of teams with the best records at the end of the 10-game regular season), the trip overseas will have been worthwhile for the Bucs' allocated players. Smith thinks the experience has been as valuable for Claxton as it has been for him.
"I think he's playing good," said Smith. "It looks like he's holding down the middle. From what I see in practice, he's really smart and he knows how to pick things up. I think he's proving himself over here, just like I am."
Though he sees the others only occasionally, Smith is aware that all six of the players Tampa Bay sent over to the NFLEL are performing well. Chris Ziemann and Kevin Breedlove are starting on the offensive line for Rhein, DT Damian Gregory is making big plays for the Scottish Claymores and CB Lynaris Elpheage has broken up 12 passes in five games for the 4-1 Frankfurt Galaxy. Since most of those players were signed after the 2003 season, Smith hasn't had a chance to get to know them as Buc teammates yet.
"I know that the cornerback playing for Frankfurt is having a good year," said Smith. "We haven't played against them yet, so I haven't really seen him, but I hear he's doing well."
The majority of the players in the NFLEL are representing one of the NFL's 32 teams. Smith, for instance, has already sacked a Dallas Cowboy (Chad Hutchinson), a Cleveland Brown (Nate Hybl), a New York Giant (Ryan Van Dyke) and a Miami Dolphin (Clint Stoerner). Each allocated player wears a small patch of his NFL team on his NFLEL jersey, but Smith hasn't really noticed the quarterbacks' affiliations as he has taken them down. He does perk up when he sees another Buc flag on the field, however.
"I hear the names (of the other teams' allocated players) a lot, but I don't really know who plays for Dallas, or whatever," said Smith. "But I do know who plays for the Bucs. I went up against Ziemann and I saw his Buc logo right away. That's fun – you kind of have fun joking around with those guys. I look for our guys first; I don't really pay attention to who else plays for what teams."
Finding a fellow Buc, perhaps chatting about the upcoming training camp in Orlando in July, gives Smith a little taste of home. And that's a good thing, because as much as he has enjoyed his time in Berlin, he admits to being homesick.
"Oh man, am I," he said. "I'm missing everybody – my family, my friends in Tampa. I haven't seen my family in awhile because I'd been in Tampa for awhile, and I really miss them. Plus, I miss little things like English on TV. The (NBA) playoffs are going on and I can't really see that. I can get the scores, but if I can't see it, at least the highlights on SportsCenter, then I can't get into it. Little things I took for granted I'm missing, like my bed."