NAPA –- Antonio Smith has been remarkably healthy playing a physical game. The defensive lineman has missed one game in the last eight seasons -– he’d want me to knock on wood here, so I’ll oblige -– leading up to age 32.
Then, just a few weeks after signing with the Raiders, he was sidelined for the entire offseason program after surgery to fix something unspecified. After Saturday afternoon’s practice at the Napa Valley Marriott, Smith solved the case of the mysterious ailment with some good news.
He had sports hernia surgery, and is already back to 100 percent.
“I knew I was going to be just fine, but it threw my offseason out of whack,” Smith said. “I wasn’t able to do what I normally do, but I’m better now and I’m ready to play.”
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That’s good news for everyone in Silver and Black. Smith will be an integral part of a four-man pass rush that, along with ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, could be formidable.
Smith used a conditional on purpose. In his first interview since signing as a free agent in March, Smith was ready to drop some knowledge.
“Whenever you have something special, you always have to have glue,” Smith said. “You have to keep it together. That’s a mindset you have to build in camp. You have to learn about one another and learn to trust the guys around you. Once you build that bond, that’s when you build something special. You can have the talent, but if you don’t play together, you don’t have anything.”
The Raiders have a collection of aging pass rushers, and Smith is the elder statesman of a stout group that ranges from 29-32. All have distinguished resumes that point to what some believe was their best days.
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"They can criticize all they want, but (Justin) Tuck, Wood (LaMarr Woodley) can (out-lift) most of the young guys coming up. As long as you produce, age doesn’t mean anything. As long as I can still disrupt and help my team make plays, I don’t care how old I am. Wisdom is a lot better than young legs.”
With quotes like that, Smith might become the Raiders’ resident philosopher. His alter ego is the Raider Ninja. When you see him come through the tunnel on game day, you’ll understand.
“He is I, and I am him,” Smith said. “That’s a secret though. Don’t tell nobody.”