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Q&A With Linebackers Coach Richard Smith

Editor's note: sat down with the assistant coaches to talk about their position groups before the coaches left Dove Valley for vacations in mid-June.

What have you seen from your players during OTAs and minicamp before the pads go on in training camp?"Well, right now, the attitude's been great with them. I think we have a really good understanding of our system. I think the big advantage is that it's year two in the system and I think we're much further along. Not just as a linebacker group but as a defense. It's really hard in terms of practicing without pads, so right now our emphasis is just to try to play fast. Right now, I've been pretty pleased with how we've played so far."

Middle linebacker is an area that a lot of people will be watching in training camp for the competition. What have you seen from that group?"Well, I think there's competition at every position. That is what we are trying to create. Right now, we're still a long ways off. We've had Nate Irving competing along with Stewart Bradley and Stevie Johnson, Joe Mays has had some reps in there too coming off of an ankle injury. I think, right now, it's been really competitive throughout OTAs and minicamps. We look forward to seeing these guys continue to grow and develop, see what we come up with once we get pads on and start playing some preseason football games."

How have you seen the middle linebacker position change over the years with the emergence of the pass-happy, spread offenses?"The league has been more of a passing offense for a long period time, but when we're talking about the Mike linebacker spot, we're talking about a guy who can get in there and be a great leader, who has a good understanding of our defense. It's more of a first and second-down type player. That's the role we're trying to fill, where Keith Brooking came in last year and did a wonderful job for us. We've got some young talent right now and it's our job as coaches right now to develop them, and their jobs as players to be able to perform."

How have you seen Nate Irving improve since the team drafted him in 2011?"We drafted him a few years back. We saw him as a Mike linebacker. I thought he did a wonderful job in the role he played last year, being able to back up the Sam. He was also a backup at the Mike linebacker position, too. But the majority of his reps came at special teams, and then he did sub Von at times at the Sam linebacker spot. I thought he did a really nice job with that."

Is the Mike position more of a natural fit for Irving?"We think so, but like I said, right now he's still developing and it's still a long ways off. Through the summer and all the preseason and training camp work, we hope that he continues to develop."

Von had a pretty remarkable season last year. How much better do you think he can get?"I think he's much better. I think, once again, the opportunity of having Jack Del Rio back for a second year has helped him. The system hasn't changed much – we've added a few wrinkles here and there. Right now, he's doing well and practicing hard. He's just trying to be an overall great football player, and I think he has a bright future."

What did you like about Steven Johnson that helped him make the team as a college free agent last season?"I love his attitude. The game is not too big for him. It's the same thing as it was last year. He was a free agent and he came in here and impressed us. I thought he did a nice job on special teams and I like it that he doesn't get rattled. He's got a very good demeanor for the position and he's very intelligent. Right now, in OTAs and minicamp, we're playing him at multiple positions. He's been playing backup at Sam and also at the Mike position. Any of these backup players, they have to be able to play any of the three positions. We try to roll them around to make sure that if there was an injury to anyone, you want the best player coming onto the field in relief. It helps them out because they get a better knowledge of the entire package that way instead of getting locked into one position."

What does Wesley Woodyard's leadership bring to the group?"I think he's done a great job. Last year Woodyard came in and really did a nice job in his role. He had a lot of production and was really durable. He's got a lot more confidence than he did a year ago and he's done a great job in his leadership role. His personality is contagious, he's the kind of guy that his teammates want to hang out with and spend a lot of time with. We're looking for bigger and better things out of him this year, even though we're pleased with what he did last year."

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