FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After missing last season with a knee injury, Will Smith is thrilled to be back on the field.
Now the 33-year-old defensive end has a job to win.
“It feels good,” Smith said Saturday after the first training camp day in full pads. “It’s been awhile so I’m excited to just be out there running around with shoulder pads, going through regular drills.
“It’s something I hadn’t done for a long time, almost a year; playing football in full gear, going out there hitting people and tackling, and stuff like that.”
Smith also can line up at linebacker, which is what he was asked to do by New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan before getting hurt last year. Smith suffered a torn left ACL in a preseason game last August.
When the season ended, his 10-year stay with the Saints came to an end – after he had taken a pay cut to play last season.
Enter the Patriots, a team looking for pass rushing depth and willing to take a minimal gamble on a guy who has 671/2 career sacks – 13 in 2009.
Last season the Patriots were fifth in the NFL with 48 sacks, but Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich had 191/2 of them. They also had to play a lot, with Jones playing 98 percent of the snaps and Ninkovich 96.
Smith, who signed for the league minimum of $855,000 and will receive a $50,000 bonus if he makes the team, should be able to provide depth for the rushers.
“I’m just excited to be here, excited to have the opportunity to come out and still play football, the game I love, do what I can to help the team,” Smith said.
One upside with having a veteran missing an entire season to rehab is other bumps and bruises get a chance to heal.
“My body definitely feels great,” Smith said. “I’ve just been working out for the past year, just trying to get back to this point – so I could be able to go out and play football. I don’t have the traditional aches and pains that most of the guys have from playing the last two years, or three years, or whatever, consistently.”
Asked if he pays attention to what’s going on with the Saints, Smith said, “My focus right now is the New England Patriots; that’s what I’m focused on.
“This is a talented group but that really doesn’t mean anything. We still have to go out and execute and win games. Camp right now is for everyone to come together and work out those kinks, and become a good team. This is really just the start of it.”
And Smith knows there’s work to do.
“I think you always have to prove yourself, each year. It never stops,” he said. “Next year if I’m lucky enough to be playing, I’m still going to have to prove myself again, and continue and continue and continue.”
NOTES: The third day of camp drew 13,819 and raised the three-day total to 32,653. …. Darrelle Revis intercepted two Tom Brady passes to Julian Edelman, one a spectacular pick of a long pass. … Brady stopped for a group photo with local police who took in the practice. … Rookie running back James White looked good, and quarterback and fellow rookie Jimmy Garoppolo made enough mistakes to earn jogging trips around the field. “Part of being a rookie, I guess,” Garoppolo said. … After practice the Patriots sang “Happy Birthday” to 6-year-old Foxborough native Danny Nickerson, who has an inoperable brain tumor and has received more than 100,000 cards and gifts after a story ran in a weekly newspaper July 17.