RENTON — Plans for adding speed to the linebacker position received a considerable boost when second-year pro Malcolm Smith recently joined the starting lineup for the Seattle Seahawks.
But whether Smith remains a starter for Sunday’s game against Buffalo remains to be seen.
With 8-year veteran Leroy Hill nursing a sprained ankle, Smith got his first career start against Chicago on Dec. 2 and played well. His good production continued in Seattle’s 58-0 win over Arizona on Sunday. He had two tackles and a recovered muffed punt for his first career touchdown in the NFL.
Now that Hill is healthy, he will have to battle to get his starting job back from the athletic Smith.
“When he had the chance he really locked in and became focused, and then he started to make plays in practice and it showed up on the field,” Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said about Smith. “As coaches, that’s always something that you have to be leery of is not giving guys credit, and when they get their chances you’re skeptical of how they’re going to do, but then they go in and do just fine.
“I think that’s the big thing for him is that he has to know that he’s going to play a lot, then his focus is right, and then he has a tendency to play better.”
The Seahawks knew the talent was there for Smith, because head coach Pete Carroll and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. had him at USC. A seventh-round selection by Seattle in the 2011 draft, at 6-foot and 226 pounds, Smith ran 40 yards 4.45 seconds at his pro day.
During his first season in Seattle, Smith had trouble staying healthy. Smith missed two games because of a hamstring injury, and two games with a concussion.
But this season, Smith has been active for all 13 games. And he’s been a key special teams contributor, with five tackles and a blocked punt.
“The speed on special teams is even more than defense,” Smith said. “So being able to do that has helped a lot for sure.
“That was the plan when I came here. They said you have to earn your way. And that’s my way of showing up.”
One reason for Smith’s improved performance has been his ability to control his health. Smith, 23, suffers from achalasia, a rare disease of the esophagus that hinders swallowing and causes regurgitation.
Smith said having the ability to monitor his diet and buy the right food has helped him control the problem.
“It was awkward,” Smith said. “I would eat by myself because I didn’t want anybody to see me. It was weird. And I would ask questions, but nobody knew at first. But I was fortunate to be at (USC), where it was something they had actually dealt with at the hospital. So it’s been OK.”
BACK IN TORONTO
The Seahawks actually have one person who has played in Toronto’s Rogers Centre — punter Jon Ryan.
A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Ryan said he played in Canada’s college national championship at the former SkyDome while at the University of Regina in 2000, and also played there twice against the Toronto Argonauts while a member of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2004 and 2005.
“When it opened, it was like ‘The Thing,’ ” Ryan said about the Rogers Centre. “It was beautiful. But now, 25 years later, it’s not.”
Ryan said he’s interested to see what an NFL field looks like inside the dome, because all three times he played there it was Canadian rules football with the longer field.
“It’s such a big area because it’s made for baseball,” he said. “And (an) American field is so much smaller, it’s almost going to look like a postage stamp down there.”
Ryan said he’ll have about 15 family members and friends in attendance. His hometown of Regina is actually closer to Seattle (about 1,000 miles) than to Toronto (1,600 miles). Ryan said he was excited about the chance to play in his home country since the schedule came out earlier this year.
“It’s really kind of like a dream,” he said. “I thought it would always be a cool deal to play an NFL game in Canada.”
For a second consecutive day, receiver Sidney Rice (foot), safety Kam Chancellor (groin), cornerback Marcus Trufant (hamstring) and defensive tackler Red Bryant (foot) did not practice while the team worked outside.
Although he did not practice, Rice was out of his walking boot and moving around.
Cornerback Walter Thurmond (hamstring), a limited participant on Wednesday, did not practice Thursday, and could be out for the game against Buffalo.
Running back Marshawn Lynch (back) was limited for a second consecutive day, and receiver Charly Martin (calf) was a limited participant.Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 eric.williams@ thenewstribune.com @eric_d_williams blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams