The name ring any bells? And no, we’re not referring to that Mike Smith. Once upon a time Smith was a linebacker in the NFL who played two seasons under Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine in Baltimore. Last year, he was hired by the Jets as an intern. His job includes diagramming plays for the defense and aiding Pettine in conducting defensive meetings amongst other various tasks.
It is this quiet figure that has slipped into the background at Florham Park that the Jets’ sack leader Aaron Maybin, who is a candidate for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, credits for reviving his career.
He’s also Maybin’s de facto personal coach, spending countless hours helping the former Bills first-round pick find his way.
“Without him, I’d probably be a fish without fins in the open sea,” says Maybin, who is an NFL Comeback Player of the Year candidate with his team-high six sacks and four forced fumbles in nine games. “He understands me better than any of my coaches since I was in college. He’s one of the biggest reasons I’m doing what I’m doing now.”
Smith is the bridge between Pettine and Maybin, part-tutor, part-mentor, streamlining information for the outside linebacker to digest. Smith conveys the same techniques and lessons that Ryan and Pettine taught him when he played linebacker for the Ravens for two seasons.
Before Maybin’s popularity soared, before the Jets started selling No. 51 jerseys with “MAYHEM” stretched across the back, the pass rushing specialist was looking for direction when he was re-signed three weeks into the season.
Smith offered that and much more. Maybin reminded him of himself. They shared the same work ethic and passion. So, Smith, who helps all the outside linebackers, quietly made a promise to always be there for Maybin. They barely knew each other, but he felt that it was the right thing to do.
The intern helped compartmentalize Maybin’s workload. He told him to shelve most of his pass-rush moves and focus on his speed rush. Soon, they focused on his up-and-under move, which worked to perfection in a game-sealing sack against the Redskins. Maybin’s grasp of the defense grew at a faster rate than the coaching staff believed possible thanks, in part, to Smith’s tutelage.
Maybin’s improbable rise has boosted an otherwise pedestrian pass rush. According to Pro Football Focus, Maybin has accounted for 20 total pressures on 129 pass-rushing snaps. He brings pressure every 6.45 pass-rushing snaps, ninth best in the league. By comparison, Cowboys’ perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware brings pressure every 7.47 pass-rushing snaps.
Smith refuses to take credit, praising Maybin’s work ethic above all else. Like his protégé, he also refuses to look back at what might have been in his own career.
Maybin and Smith both have led simlar paths having faced some form of adversity. Maybin was a disappointment in Buffalo after remaining sackless for two years. Smith’s journey though was a bit different which is why it makes this story all the more inspiring.
Smith had all the characteristics of a Jet, or at the time, a Raven. Much like Maybin he was relentless, had an excellent work ethic and a willingness to learn. With the Ravens he played on special teams and played every imaginable position at linebacker, weak-side, strong-side, outside, middle, inside, you name it, he played it.
Unfortunately, a promising career (in the Leonhard-esque sense) was abruptly cut short when, in his first career start for the injured Ray Lewis, he was cut by center Kevin Mawae and suffered a shoulder injury. He tore his labrum, rotator cuff, biceps tendon and dislocated the shoulder … he still convinced Ryan to stay in for the opening series.
Though he was forced into retirement, his never say never attitude certainly helped him during one of the darkest hours of his life and now, it is that same attitude that is providing a positive influence for Maybin and rejuvinating his career.