The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Kansas City Chiefs in Raymond James Stadium on November 7 this season. If things go right for Corey Smith, he could be part of a small reunion on the field before the game.
Smith, one of six Buccaneers allocated to play in the NFL Europe League this spring, will go to his third Tampa Bay training camp in July, hoping to earn both a roster spot and a significant role on defense. Two new friends of his, defensive end Israel Idonije and tight end Mike Pinkard, will be doing the same in the Chiefs' camp.
Smith agreed to this European swing in order to get some valuable live-game playing time and hone his pass-rushing skills. It has gone well; Smith ranks fourth in the NFLEL with 6.5 sacks through eight games and has been one of the star players on the league's first-place team, the Berlin Thunder. But there have been side benefits to playing overseas this spring, too, among them the opportunity to form friendships with men at similar junctures in their NFL careers.
"I've made a lot of friends over here, both defense and offense," said Smith. "We hang out and talk about our careers. It's good because we're all in the same boat. We understand each other when we talk about what has happened to us and what our goals are. Our experiences are the same, so that brings us together. Hopefully, we'll keep in contact back in the States. I know I'm going to keep in contact with the guys on the D-line."
Smith has bonded with, among others, Idonije, Pinkard and defensive tackle Montique Sharp, a Chicago Bears-allocated player. Those four have helped the Thunder compile a league-best 7-1 record and secure one of two spots in the June 12 NFLEL championship game, World Bowl XII. After beating their eventual World Bowl opponents, the Frankfurt Galaxy, on Saturday, the Thunder could conceivably relax for their final two games of the regular season. Instead, Smith knows that he and his new friends will be working as hard as ever, still pursuing that larger goal of a lasting career in the NFL.
"I think we're actually watching more film now, at the end of the season," said Smith. "Some of the guys are thinking that it's getting near the end of the season and they want to show up on film. Guys want to put their finishing touches on the season. So we're watching more film, even though we're already in the championship. Guys are still trying to get better, so NFL teams will look at them.
"That's the main thing people look at when the season is over, the film. And people are starting to watch us now because we've been on TV a lot."
Berlin's 31-27 win over the Galaxy on Saturday was shown live on the NFL Network and then again on Sunday at 8:00 p.m. More importantly, the game film was shipped back to the States for a close look by each player's team, and potentially other teams around the league. There were plenty of strong individual performances to enjoy, according to Smith.
"It was one of our most hard-fought games," said Smith. "They had several players hurt, but they still gave us a very tough game. Frankfurt has good balance, good players on both offense and defense. It was a great game – it came down to a fourth-down play at the end. Both teams played well."
Smith has battled his own minor shoulder injury this spring, nothing that should slow him down in the World Bowl or in Bucs camp later in the summer. He does admit, however, that the possibility of injury is another reason a season in Europe is a calculated risk.
"It does go through your mind a little bit," he said. "Sometimes, you've just got to be smart. You try not to stand around near the pile. You want to stay out of that situations where you have no control over things that can get you hurt. You might be standing near the pile and somebody will accidentally hit you in the leg.
"But injuries come when you relax and lose your focus. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. You don't want to go out there thinking about injuries, because that's going to slow you down. It's a violent sport and injuries happen. What are you going to do?"
What, indeed? Smith simply plays hard, works on improving his game, then relaxes afterward with his new NFL friends.
"We go to the Hard Rock Café on Tuesday nights, mainly to get the wings, because those wings are off the hook," said Smith. "Plus, all the big performers go there – Montel Jordan was there, and Ginuwine was there a couple of weeks ago. We just hang out together as a team."
If things go well, Smith, Idonije, Sharp and Pinkard will be hanging together in the NFL this fall.