Bruce Smith was all the rage two weeks ago, when the all-time sack leader was inducted along with the man who stamped his first of many paychecks, Bills longtime owner Ralph C. Wilson.
While Wilson talked about many of the Bills’ early days, Smith focused on his own humble beginnings at North Carolina’s Booker T. Washington high school before driving down nostalgia lane with a virtual roll call of the Bills’ early ‘90s roster.
Smith talked about the impact his late father had on him, recalling a conversation when the elder Smith plainly instructed his son, “Whatever you do in life, don’t ever quit.”?? Smith’s speech had an underlying theme of gratitude and humility, as he thanked everyone from his father and mother to his first high school basketball and football coaches to the linebackers who served as “bookends” to him on the Bills’ Super Bowl teams. He even evoked the Almighty five times, using the term “God-fearing” when describing his father and wife.
The term is fitting, because it was Smith, more than any other defensive end in history, that put the fear of God into quarterbacks. Surely history’s huddle-callers cringed at the thought of the 300-pound Reggie White bearing down on them, as tight ends shuttered when receiving one of Deacon Jones’ now-outlawed head slaps. But it was Smith, above all, whose pursuit was most relentless.
But it’s important to note that, as much as Smith’s humility was evident in his Hall of Fame speech, all it takes is a quick survey of sportswriters and astute fans to realize that the words Bruce Smith and humility have rarely gone in the same sentence.
This is a guy who, on the day he was honored with a spot on the Bills’ Wall of Fame last September, specifically pointed out why he was better than White and Jones.
“I’m not boasting or bragging, these are facts,” he said then. “The best defensive end and pass rusher that played in this game played for the Buffalo Bills.”
He pointed out that while many of the great rushers (see Purple People Eaters, White and Jones) played in a 4-3 defensive scheme, which more often than not leaves defensive ends with single coverage. ?
Smith was right. The fact he played in a 3-4 is a necessary one of you’re going to recognize just how great he was. But that wasn’t really ever the point. Everyone knew how good he was. He really didn’t need to say it.
So it was refreshing to hear Smith come off as humble for once. But as he mentioned the likes of Ted Cottrell and Darryl Talley—who, to his credit, he always talked about as the most unselfish of the Bills (and the one who kept Smith in check)—my mind wandered to the Bills’ current defensive end rotation, which is uncertain at best.
And while Smith wasn’t really ever the most humble of the Bills’ Hall of Famers, nobody gave more on the field or in the weight room. And there are some lessons Chris Ellis and the Aarons can take from the Bills’ most recent Hall of Famer:
Aaron Schobel must return to form this season.
1. If you’re going to be cocky, back it up. Smith always did. While Schobel has long been known to possess the biggest ego of the Bills’ defensive line, his production since last year’s injury (and during his 6.5-sack ’07 season) is still in question. As the two-time Pro-Bowler fights to prove he still has the kind of talent and drive he showed during his three double-digit sack seasons (most recently in 2006), he’d be wise to quit the Smith-like talk and embrace the new humility that Smith has also picked up.
2. Get in camp and make the most of your reps. Smith was there for the first day of Bills camp in May 1985. Arriving with Andre Reed, he encountered a wild morning that included rain, sleet and show before the afternoon sunshine, a typically wacky day of weather in Buffalo. But he was there. Recent first-round pick Aaron Maybin is not, and his linebacker-turned-publicist friend and fellow Penn State alum Lavar Arrington said that’s due to 10th pick Michael Crabtree’s holdout with the 49ers. Regardless of that the pick before him does, Maybin needs to get into camp and start getting reps. Thus far, those reps have belonged to Chris Ellis, who
recently explained to Buffalo News reporter and BFR publisher Tyler Dunne that he’s making the most of the exhausting number of reps he’s getting in Maybin’s absence.
3. Work your body. Smith’s widely-known story is that he came to Bills camp at a strong, yet plump 300 pounds in 1985 before Bills strength and conditioning coordinator Rusty Jones set him on his way to becoming the training freak he would become. Ellis, a Virginia Tech product like Smith, has already shed 10 pounds since last year, but Maybin may have to actually add some. Maybin wasn’t quite 250 pounds at Penn State, and to compete in the league, he’ll have to show a dedication to fitness much like Smith did.
Buffalo hasn't generated must heat on the quarterback this preseason.
While the Bills’ defensive end shuffle seems to be constantly in motion, things should sort out in the next month, depending on how quickly Maybin gets to camp. With Schobel needing to prove he can dominate once again, and with Ryan Denney’s contract ending after the season, the Bills’ younger ends, Ellis and Maybin, should be looking to heighten the competition. So far one, has taken those steps. The other? That remains to be seen.
Charlie Specht is an analyst for BuffaloFootballReport.com and also writes for the Buffalo News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.