It had finally arrived. Scrimmage day. The Lions were on the field in their white jerseys with blue numbers while on the next field were the Raiders in their black practice jerseys with white numbers. Then, finally, the moment of truth. The teams swap offense and defense, starting with 9-on-7 run sessions.
The first play, Derek Carr lines up under center with fullback Keith Smith and running back Marshawn Lynch behind him. The ball is snapped, Carr gives the ball to Lynch who follows Smith toward the left guard gap. The seas part and through the hole goes Smith, looking for someone to block. Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis comes up to take him on. Smith, fighting through traffic and drives into Davis, who attempts to shed the block only to have Marshawn put a charge into and send him into a backward somersault.
“What we did was started that period off setting the tone,” Smith said of the block and truck on Davis.
“I hit Davis first and then Marshawn came and just cleared everything out. He tried to take credit for everything and I said ‘naw, if you watch the film, I hit him first’.”
Smith set it up and Marshawn knocked him down. That one-two punch was just what Jon Gruden envisioned when he made Keith Smith a priority free agent signing this offseason. And it took just one play to see his vision play out.
“You know his nickname is Beast Mode for a reason and I think he’s the perfect back for our offense and what Gruden’s trying to do, so it’s going to be fun blocking for him,” said Smith.
Gruden made it very clear he was bringing back the pure fullback role in his offense. His plans in that regard were what drew Smith to the team. A former linebacker, he transitioned to fullback in part because he is a natural hands catcher. Other than that, the duties, as Smith states it, between a linebacker and fullback are relatively similar.
“It took some getting used to at first, but I made the transition from linebacker and I was kind of doing the same thing except now I just can’t tackle guys,” Smith said. “I’m still getting to do this for a living and that’s kind of what I’ve done my whole career. I take that mentality from being a linebacker and seeking out guys to hit and putting that in the fullback perspective.”
Those same qualities also make him a valuable commodity on special teams. It’s no coincidence that Rich Bisaccia, his special teams coordinator from Dallas, joined the Raiders staff this offseason.
Friday night the Raiders will see their first game action against these same Lions at Oakland Coliseum to kick off the preseason. The starters will play some early, but for the most part, the players who will see the most action will be depth players looking to make a strong impression on the Raiders coaches.
Just as Smith led the charge on the first play of the first scrimmage, he will set the example for those players looking to make their mark and carve out a career in the NFL. And he will set the tone for a Raiders team that hopes to be built from the ground game up.