Bills' Smith getting ready for sack time vs. Raiders Defensive ends sets sights on Schroeder

January 19, 1991|By Mike Preston

Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith sees it this way: If Los Angeles Raiders running back Bo Jackson (hip injury) doesn't play tomorrow, that means the Raiders probably will throw more. And if they do, Smith likes his chances of getting sacks and disrupting the Los Angeles offense.

"There's no question that Bo has a lot of impact on their offense and what they do," said Smith, voted the National Football League's best defensive player this season. "My main job is to get to the ball, but I like it most when it's the quarterback who has it."

The Bills and Raiders will meet tomorrow in the American Football Conference championship at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

It's no secret that the Raiders love to run and that they do it well. But Los Angeles also has quarterback Jay Schroeder, formerly of the Washington Redskins, who has been inconsistent most of his career.

The Bills, who won't comment publicly, figure that if they can rattle Schroeder early, they'd have a better chance of winning.

That's where Smith, 6 feet 4 and 285 pounds, comes in. He had 19 sacks this season and finished with 101 tackles despite being double- and triple-teamed much of the time.

"He's an opposing coach's nightmare," Jets offensive line coach Larry Beightol said recently. "I don't really think there's a way to stop him. He's at another level."

That's what Smith, a sixth-year pro out of Virginia Tech, has been telling people all year.

He started the campaign in December, the week before the Bills played the New York Giants, when he proclaimed himself the best defensive player in football.

Yes, better even than the Giants' Lawrence Taylor.

Headlines of Smith's statements were spread across the New York papers. Some people were shocked by Smith's statement, but his teammates apparently were not.

Remember, this is the guy who after a big loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 2, criticized coach Marv Levy for giving up when Levy benched most of his offensive starters with eight minutes remaining and the Dolphins up by 23 points.

Smith was fined $500.

"I don't picture Bruce ever being, uh . . . shy," said Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly.

Smith said his chances for publicity were hurt because his team played in a small market.

That may be true, but he may also have been hurt by the team's failures the previous two seasons. In 1988, the Bills went 12-4 and lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 21-10, in the AFC championship game. Last season, the Bills bickered among themselves and slipped to 9-7, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Cleveland Browns, 34-30.

Smith also was given a four-game suspension in 1988, for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

"That's all behind me and the team now," Smith said. "We were one step away, and you don't ever know if you'll get that chance to take that step again. We're getting another chance."

This time around, however, Smith is getting plenty of credit.

His knee has responded well from arthroscopic surgery in February. He was the only defender to get votes for Most Valuable Player, was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl and made All-Pro.

The only thing that separates Smith from his first Super Bowl appearance is the Raiders and left tackle Rory Graves, who probably will get help from the tight end and fullback.

"Anything Bruce does doesn't surprise us," teammate and close friend Darryl Talley said. "Every time you think you've seen his best, he does something else even better."

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