Ex-Terp Smith trashes nice-guy image with Colts

June 09, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

In another incarnation, Irvin Smith was a mild-mannered cornerback who played his zone coverages with enough flair to be a BMOC at the University of Maryland.

That was then. The CFL Colts are now. In a recent practice, Smith demonstrated the difference. After a receiver delivered some trash talk his way, Smith got in the receiver's face with a sharp warning.

Forget that the receiver was five inches taller and 18 pounds heavier. On the next play, the same receiver cut off his pass pattern 5 yards short of the ball -- and of Smith. Coincidence or not? You make the call.

These days, Smith, 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, takes a back seat to no one. He arrived at Towson State two weeks ago with an attitude and a track record for getting cut late in camp.

Some 20 practices later, the attitude is winning out. Smith is a leading candidate to gain a starting cornerback job with the expansion Colts. He is still courteous but there is little similarity between the defensive back for the Terps in the late 1980s and the one making a name for himself here.

"It's something I didn't have at Maryland," Smith said of his aggressive edge. "Maryland didn't allow you to be yourself. You weren't allowed to taunt an opponent. You weren't allowed to be yourself on the field."

The attitude was acquired in London, of all places, where Smith spent two years with the Monarchs of the World League. He was one of the league's best cornerbacks on one of the league's best teams. The Monarchs won the first World Bowl in 1991.

"That gave me my whole identity," said Smith, who was born in Bethesda and lives in Gaithersburg. "It taught me to be the hammer instead of the nail.

"I was a good corner. I never taunted anybody. But my teammates were jumping in guys' faces. We were 1-0, 2-0, and my confidence started coming. If you talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk. I was backing up my talk.

"I call it confidence, not boisterousness. I respect every receiver I go against, and I want them to respect me."

Smith's talk, and his versatility, are well-suited to the wide-open Canadian Football League, where man-to-man coverage is virtually mandated by the huge field. Although he's played the past several days at right cornerback, the Colts also have worked him at halfback and free safety.

Smith was cut twice by the New York Jets, spent two seasons on practice rosters in the CFL, then was cut by the Minnesota Vikings in 1991 and the Washington Redskins a year ago after 11 weeks on injured reserve.

Defensive coordinator Bob Price, who coaches the secondary, said cornerback is Smith's natural position.

"He's very instinctive," Price said. "He reads things well, plays things well. He has a good understanding of what to do. I wouldn't hesitate to use him at free safety, either. I don't see any flaws in his game."

At 27, Smith is running out of opportunities. When he found little interest from NFL teams, he signed with the Colts last month. This has the appearance of a last chance.

"I try not to think in those terms, as far as a last chance," he said. "I would love to finish my career here in Baltimore. I don't care about the NFL anymore. The next two or three seasons, I'd like to bring a Grey Cup championship to Baltimore. This could open up many more doors for me after my career, too."

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