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Steve Smith confident he can fill Plaxico Burress' shoes


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Giants WR Steve Smith confident he can fill Plaxico Burress' shoes


BY Ralph Vacchiano



Sunday, August 2nd 2009, 4:00 AM



Giants wide receiver Steve Smith is hoping to run away with the No. 1 receiver job for Big Blue.

The Giants will need Smith's solid play in order to replace Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. Sipkin/News


The Giants will need Smith's solid play in order to replace Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer.


ALBANY - It was just a game between two friends with a little friendly wager. Steve Smith, then a USC wide receiver, playing teammate and tight end Dominique Byrd in a little game of Madden NFL. No big deal.


Smith lost. He told Byrd he'd pay him later. Byrd wanted the money now. Words were exchanged. Things got heated. And Byrd, standing 6-3 and weighing 260 pounds, got a little too aggressive for Smith's taste.


So Smith, the quiet, 195-pounder, dropped him with one punch.


"I didn't want to fight him, but he just got upset and tried to rush me," Smith says three years later. "So I had to hit him. The doctor told me I broke his jaw, a smooth break. I got the first punch in and it connected. Good thing I learned how to swing first."


It was a seemingly out-of-character moment for the mild-mannered, California cool Smith, who's now entering his third year as a Giants receiver. He was embarrassed and upset at first, especially after he saw Byrd with his jaw wired shut and on a liquid diet for six weeks.


"I couldn't believe that happened," Smith says. "It takes a lot to get me mad or get me going. I'm like a mild-mannered guy. But I felt threatened. When you feel threatened, that's when you react, your competitive instincts react. It takes a lot for me to get going like that. Like the Super Bowl ..."


Oh yes, Super Bowl XLII. Smith, then at the end of a disappointing rookie season in which he missed 11 games (and drew the ire of his coaches) with a fractured shoulder and a pulled hamstring, quietly took the field early, lined up ... and immediately sought out veteran safety Rodney Harrison, of the then-undefeated New England Patriots.


"I was talking smack to Rodney Harrison from play one to the last play," Smith recalls. "I was that amped up. A lot of guys would probably shy away at the Super Bowl, but I was ready to go. Emotions took over me. I was like, ‘Rodney, where are you? You can't guard me!'


"He was looking at me like, ‘What is this guy talking about?'"




At first glance - really, at any glance - Smith doesn't look like the logical candidate to try to fill Plaxico Burress' diamond- and gold-covered shoes as the Giants' No. 1 receiver - even though that's exactly what he'll be trying to do starting this morning when the Giants report to training camp at the University at Albany. Burress, for his height (6-5), for the way he carried himself, for his entourage and for his bling, always stood out wherever he went.


There's nothing flashy and nothing that stands out about Smith.



That wasn't always the case. Back when he was in junior high, already approaching his current height of 5-11, he was a stud on the basketball court and a dominant receiver. "I was always bigger than everybody, so it was a big advantage for me." But he stopped growing. He could still play. He just started to blend into the crowd.


Even at USC, a program that makes it look like the NFL expanded to Hollywood, he was never a big story, hardly ever center stage at a school that produced stars such as Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett during Smith's years. Even a friendship with Snoop Dogg and a seven-catch, 113-yard, three-touchdown performance in the 2004 national championship game in his first college season couldn't push him into the spotlight.


"I guess some guys it might have got to a little bit, but I was happy to just be a part of it," Smith says. "Some guys want to be the face, like Reggie. He was an amazing talent. I was just happy to be on the same team as him.


"You know, we had this wall at USC - the All-American wall. Every great player you can think of is on that wall. That's what I wanted to be. And I got on that wall my (last) year."


Under the radar, out of the spotlight and in the shadows of the attention grabbers, all Smith does is produce. He had 60 catches for 957 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore at USC, and upped that to 71-1,083-9 as a junior before leaving for the NFL.


He's done it in the NFL, too. He had 57 catches for 574 yards and a touchdown last year. And before that, he capped that injury-plagued rookie season with 14 catches for 152 yards in the Giants' playoff run in 2007. That included five catches for 50 yards in the Super Bowl, and one of the biggest catches of the 17-14 win over the Patriots - on third-and-11 with 39 seconds left, when he caught a short pass on the sidelines and instinctively scampered up field to get just beyond the first-down marker.


It was a huge play that saved the game-winning drive. Of course, it got little attention coming three plays after David Tyree's remarkable helmet catch and one play before Burress' game-winning touchdown grab.


"That just shows you a little bit about my life in football," Smith says. "Just kind of being overlooked a bit, but always being right in the midst of things making big plays."




There'll be no hiding from the spotlight now that Burress is an ex-Giant, thanks to his self-inflicted gunshot wound last November, and since the Giants chose not to re-sign Amani Toomer. Yes, they flirted with the idea of trading for Braylon Edwards, and yes, they drafted North Carolina receiver Hakeem Nicks in the first round. But Smith is the guy they're counting on.


"Steve is a little bit unique," says offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. "He has very good body control and he has good speed. I wouldn't say it is as good as he thinks, but he has good speed. But he just has a knack, he just has a way of making plays."


For the past two years, Smith mostly has played the role of the No. 3 receiver out of the slot. Now he'll get a chance to run his routes from the outside, which he says will help improve his yards after the catch (he's averaged a mediocre 9.8 yards per catch over two seasons) and give him a chance for more big plays.


The Giants are touting a deep receiving corps they say will work like a committee, with each receiver - possibly six in all - getting significant playing time and showcasing different skills. But the reality is that at some point Eli Manning will settle on a favorite - a guy like Burress that he'll want to rely on when he needs to bail out the offense or when the game is on the line.


"Steve gets open so Eli feels very good about throwing him the ball," Gilbride says. "It's not real sophisticated. He is hard to cover, he gets open, he does the right thing, he is courageous, and he will make the tough catches inside. He is a quarterback-friendly guy as a receiver."


Most importantly, despite his mild-mannered exterior, Smith senses an opportunity and those well-hidden competitive juices have been flowing for months. He's not a typical star receiver diva. There's no flash, no showmanship, no talking off the field. He offers no guarantees about his job or what he thinks he can accomplish this year.


But he smiles when asked how confident he is in this receiving corps without Burress and Toomer, and how he thinks that even without them the Giants will "air it out" this year. He wants to be the center of that. He wants to be the big-play receiver.


Deep inside that calm, cool exterior he desperately wants to become Manning's go-to guy.


"I definitely want that opportunity," Smith says. "When we need a big play I want to be the guy that they come to. And I want the lights on me when it's tough and everybody's sweating and bloody. I want to be that guy that makes the big play."







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I love to see fire in a guy competing for a better role on the team, I guess I never really thought about it but he does have a pretty good chance of going for that #1 spot. Although I do feel he is pretty much our #2 for the next 10 years, I wouldnt have a problem trying him out at #1 for a game just to see how he does. I guess it's all up to the coaches though and who they feel will give us the better chance of winning.

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I like Smith and can see him being that Toomer type of receiver...he runs great routes and has excellent hands...he also always knows how to find the chains...the guy is a pure winner and I can see him being a top Giants receiver for many years.

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