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Smith always working and talking


EDITOR'S NOTE: This article first appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Aug. 28, 2010, for the Texans' preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Dog Days of Summer are over, but for Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, every gameday is his own personal Dog Day.

"He likes to say he's a dog and they let the dogs out on Sunday, and he really takes that kind of mindset to heart," defensive end Connor Barwin said. "He considers himself a dog and they let him out to go and get the running backs and the quarterbacks."

Smith brought an intense work ethic and a boisterous personality last season after signing with the Texans as an unrestricted free agent from the Arizona Cardinals. To the delight of his teammates and coaches, he's been barking ever since.
Tonight, watch him as he informs the Dallas Cowboys that the dogs are out and welcomes them to his kennel.

"From the time we go out on the field for pregame, he's talking, and we love it," strong safety Bernard Pollard said. "I'm not going to shut him up. Nobody's going to shut him up. When that clock starts and that (opposing) offense is on the field, that's what we need, somebody to say something to them. When the game is over, we are all friends, we don't hate anybody. It's just competition."

Smith is the "other" Texans defensive end, starting on the opposite side from Mario Williams, the Texans No. 1 draft pick in 2006. Still, Smith is well known and respected among his teammates. He was in Barwin's ear last year, helping the rookie with nuances of the game.

Smith also was another voice on gamedays along with Pollard, quite the talker himself.

"Antonio is one of those guys who will chatter, chatter, chatter," Pollard said. "On TV timeouts, you'll see him talking. Antonio is a great player. He gets overlooked at times. Everyone focuses on No. 90 (Williams), but if you watch him, he kicks butt. He takes on double teams and kicks their butts."

Barwin and Smith made a good combination on passing downs last season. Barwin would line up at end and Smith would slide inside to tackle. The alignment led to 4.5 sacks for both players, second on the team behind Williams' 9.0.

"He was willing to share his experience, and that was huge for me," Barwin said. "He would tell me after meetings or games how I could play better, small things we don't see in the meetings that he knew could help.

"The best part about being his teammate is he genuinely loves to play football, and the best part for him is on Sundays. He turns it up. You can tell he wouldn't rather be doing anything else."

Defensive coordinator Frank Bush has appreciated Smith's leadership and work ethic. Both Smith and Pollard added a spark to the defense last season.

"He's a guy who plays outside, plays inside," Bush said. "He likes to grind, the physical part of a football game. So, he brought a toughness to our football team that we needed. Antonio says some things, but it's more about his work. He appreciates the grinding. He likes practice. He never wants to take time off."

Smith started 39 of 61 games for the Cardinals and was a part of the team that played in Super Bowl XLIII. He quickly asserted himself with the Texans, starting 15 of 16 games last season. He had 33 tackles, forced two fumbles and had two fumble recoveries.

"This is our second year in this defense and we tweaked the little stuff, but basically it's the same thing," Smith said. "I think we've all got it. That's good when you break it down to the basics and keep practicing the basics and you know it like the back of your hand. That's where we are this year."

Smith impacted the D-line from the start, especially in tutoring the younger players. Bush knew what he was getting in Smith, having coached with the Cardinals from 2004-06 and seen Smith develop as a young player trying to make his way up from the practice squad.

{QUOTE}"He makes them understand it's a grind and you've got to get through it," Bush said. "Work on your technique and get through it. He raised the level of play for the D-line because he's a worker. He understands work and has never batted an eye when it comes to work.

"He's really helped the defensive line, players like Frank (Okam), Amobi (Okoye) and Mitch (Earl Mitchell) and those other kids."

For all his woofing, Smith is much more about doing the job than talking about it. He expects the defense this year to help the offense more.

"This defense is always attacking; it's designed for that," Smith said. "The players in this defense like it that way, so we're going to attack and read on the run. I think we've bettered that mind frame now. I think it's a mind frame we've got to stay focused on, not just being a defense that maintains for our offense.

"You've got to get in the mind frame of a defense that wants to go out and dominate, that wants to go out and be one of the best defenses. I think when you get that, you're getting better."

Pollard appreciates Smith's work ethic.

"He has a nastiness about him where he doesn't stop," Pollard said. "He doesn't care who lines up across from him. He doesn't care if it's one guy or two guys or three guys. He's a player that his thing is to prove a lot of people wrong. He's been cut before. He's been talked about before. He doesn't care. He's out here to show who he really is."

Defensive line coach Bill Kollar likes Smith's inside work.

"When we move him inside, you really start to see him produce and make more plays," Kollar said. "He was more effective for us last year when we moved him inside and obviously, we'll be doing the same thing this year a bunch.

"He keeps getting better all the time at defensive end, but he really played more inside when he was in Arizona, and that's where he feels more comfortable. He's been doing a good job."

At end or tackle, Smith just wants to be on the field.

"Inside is a lot of fun because you get to bang and everything is quick," he said. "I don't have a preference. I can play them both. Run plays are fun. Pass plays are fun."

Smith is very bold in what he expects from the Texans this season.

"Anything less than the playoffs for us this year is a failure," he said. "We need to get that in our mindset and it's going to happen."

Pollard matches Smith in exuberance.

"We expect to win, we expect to beat teams and go far," Pollard said. "He's trying to show he's a dog on this field, and that's what he is, and that's what (Texans owner) Mr. (Bob) McNair and (general manager) Mr. (Rick) Smith wanted. They wanted to bring different pieces to the team."

It looks like they brought in a piece in Smith who fits in just fine.

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