ALAMEDA – Sean Smith has two interceptions already this season. His next will mark a career high.
That seems crazy for such an adept cover man, but it’s a verified low interception count that might be rising now.
Smith had 10 interceptions in seven seasons entering his first as a Raider, never more than two in a campaign. It’s something his new coaches sought to change with a personalized plan designed to insure Smith gets more picks.
He has two since signing a four-year, $38.5 million contract with the Raiders, and coaches believe he’s primed for several more this year after letting too many past opportunities slips through his hands.
“Early on, we knew he had good instincts and good knowledge, but he would always drop the ball,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “The ball would come to him and he’d drop it. We put him on a JUGS machine and threw the ball to him often and talked to him about how to catch.
“We set up certain drills for him, and we really individualized his drills to make him aware of what his weaknesses are. He really listened and it’s shown in his ability to get his hands on the ball.”
Smith has two interceptions that count, and picked off a two-point conversion in Baltimore. He let a few slip through his hands this preseason, proving his coaches’ point that he needed to improve in that area.
Last week’s pick against San Diego proves he’s made strides. Smith said he identified Travis Benjamin’s route early and anticipated Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers would favor a one-on-one matchup and go deep.
Smith made Benjamin seem open and quickly closed in after the ball was thrown. He undercut the route, made a leaping interception and returned it 27 yards.
It was a highlight in a solid three-game stretch. Smith has two interceptions and three passes defensed in that span, where passer ratings are exceptionally low when targeting his man. Quarterbacks have completed 8-of-19 passes for no touchdowns and the aforementioned pair of picks against Smith.
That’s a stark improvement over the first two games, when he allowed a touchdown and got benched at New Orleans and allowed two scores against Atlanta.
“Sean is a competitor, and is really prideful about his work,” Norton said. “You can’t get to this level without caring about what you do. He is new to all of us, and he wanted us to know that wasn’t him. He wanted to really show that he’s a really good football player. He is a really good player, and it comes down to consistency and working hard.”
Smith can extend this quality stretch against his former team when the Raiders host Kansas City on Sunday.