Tim Benz: For Steelers, what will ‘The Hybrid’ Sutton Smith be?
Sixth-round draft pick Sutton Smith is as engaging and energetic an interview as the Steelers have drafted in years.
Can we give “The Chief Award” to a rookie? What if he doesn’t make the team out of camp? Does that matter?
During minicamp, the Northern Illinois product — and St. Louis Blues fan— gave me a complete breakdown of the Stanley Cup Final, worthy of NHL Network analysis.
At the end of the interview, I asked a question slightly more pressing for Steelers fans.
“So, like, what should I call you?”
Don’t laugh. It was as valid of a question as me asking about the Blues’ forecheck scheme.
Seriously. What is Sutton Smith? Is he going to be the outside linebacker depth this team sorely needs? Is he going to be a fullback, as he tried during spring workouts? Is he just a special teams maven? Or is he an inside linebacker in OLB clothing?
“A little bit of everything, man,” Smith said as he smiled. “I try to do it all. Just call me ‘The Hybrid.’ ”
“The Hybrid” doesn’t sound as football-tough as “The Bus.” But it’s more eco-friendly. Maybe Smith is the Steelers’ “Green New Deal”
“Things are going well with fullback. They are throwing me in a little bit more,” Smith said. “They don’t want me to pick a position. They want me to learn both positions.”
Wait. “Both?” Which “both?” Inside and outside? Fullback and halfback?
“Offense and defense,” Smith replied.
Oh. Is that all? And special teams, too?
Yeah. No doubt. If Smith is going to make this team, he’s going to have to be Tyler Matakevich 2.0.
“He played defensive end in college,” inside linebacker coach Jerry Olsavsky said. “The easiest way to make the team is on special teams, then make yourself valuable with the other traits. We like how he comes off the edge. Now we are trying to get him to be a good special teams player, so he has a spot there.
“And fullback? From his high school background, he was a pretty good player.”
The Steelers list Smith at 6 feet, 232 pounds. If you look at him, you think inside linebacker. That’s an inch taller and 2 pounds lighter than Devin Bush.
Conversely, outside linebacker Bud Dupree is 6-foot-4, 269 pounds.
So you tell me, physically, how does Smith project in the NFL?
James Harrison played outside linebacker at an elite level in the NFL. He’s roughly the same size as Smith. Same height, 10 pounds heavier.
But he’s also James Harrison. How many of those come around every year?
Smith claims he didn’t take a single rep at inside linebacker through OTAs and minicamp. Olsavsky said Smith would likely only go inside if there were injuries in training camp.
So it appears that if Smith is going to be playing on Sundays in Pittsburgh, it’ll be because he is rushing as an outside linebacker or stuffing outside linebackers as a fullback.
“To teach somebody inside and outside right away? That would be a disservice,” Olsavsky explained. “If it shows up later, OK. But that’s something that comes out during the course of training camp.”
All that being said, Olsavsky insists that we shouldn’t sleep on Smith’s pass-rushing skills, despite his diminutive stature for the position.
“At rookie camp, you might have looked at him a couple times and said, ‘Maybe he is too small.’ But I haven’t seen that now. You look at the film, and he holds up on the edge pretty well,” Olsavsky said.
Smith had 30 sacks at NIU and 58 tackles for loss. As a senior at Francis Howell High School in Missouri, he rushed for 2,046 yards and scored 27 rushing touchdowns.
If Smith just blocks as a fullback and gets a single sack as an outside linebacker, he will have made Kevin Colbert’s sixth-round flyer on him worthwhile.
And if he doesn’t? Well, Colbert is a big hockey fan. Smith was a pretty versatile hockey forward, too. He played all three forward positions.
Maybe he can put in a good word with Jim Rutherford.