Our Ron Lippock spoke one-on-one with new Steeler Sutton Smith, one of the team’s 2019 6th round picks. Sutton played outside linebacker at Northern Illinois, but could be used in multiple positions by the Steelers and figures to play a role on special teams.
First, has it all sunk in yet?
I’m sure it will in a little bit when I get there and start practicing. It’s a new opportunity for me – a new path – and I’m ready for it.
Were you aware the Steelers had interest in you before they drafted you?
My agent talked with them to be honest – I know they liked me from what he told me but he was the one talking to them. The only time I talked with anyone from the Steelers organization was at the Senior Bowl – and I talked to everybody there from the head coach to the GM. I spoke to the whole operating staff. You know what they say – it’s like speed-dating. You go around and meet all of the teams.
What did you talk about with the Steelers staff there?
We talked about my background mostly – my life and family. I gotta be clean and I had no issues off the field.
We also talked about football and how I was able to transition from running back to defensive line and now to linebacker. It’s different for sure, but I told them that I could definitely handle it. I have a strong, low center of gravity – I’m strong and quick and that helps create some problems for the offense.
Meeting Coach Tomlin was very cool too – he was one of the coolest coaches I ever met. I hope I can further my career with the Steelers. I do’nt want to go anywhere for years – I want to stay loyal to this team.
Did they talk to you about what positions and roles they want you to play yet?
To be honest, there are so many different things they want me to be tried out at.- I don’t know what they want me to do yet – outside linebacker, inside linebacker – I’ll be competing at those at least.
I haven’t played inside linebacker before to be honest – so I’m going to be learning more from the vets and new guys that played it already. It’ll be an awesome opportunity to try and learn a new position from those guys.
At outside linebacker, it’ll be a big soak-up year for me. Everybody wants to start and that’s a good mindset to go in with, but I know I’ll have to find myself and my role on the team first, then I can excel and compete for a starting role.
That’s a refreshing outlook – many I’ve spoken to expect to come in and compete right away to start.
Starting is the goal but it doesn’t happen like that for most people. You don’t just come in and start. For me, I’ll have to learn fast. I’ll compete to start but know that I’m there to be the best teammate I can be. I’ll learn from the guys and when I’m ready look to start then,
Anything you have to learn most?
I never had to drop back before. I get rushing the passer and was a running back and safety, but I didn’t drop back until the Senior Bowl. It’s not hard – it’s just something you have to add on to what I show them I can do. And it won’t ruin my day if all I do year one is play on special teams.
Speaking of – tell me about your experience on special teams.
Oh God, yeah – special teams are fun for me. They finally put me in on special teams my senior year. At NIU, they usually don’t let starters in on special teams. I was begging the coaches to let me in though – I knew NFL teams wanted to see that so I asked them for it. It was mostly on safe punts, but I said screw this, I’m rushing! I blocked two punts and I know that got some attention, and folks started to make a thing of it.
I wanted to ask you about all of the talk of you being undersized. How tired are you of heating that-and how do you dispel that talk
Effort and heart win over size every day of the week. Just check my film and stats. We were undersized as a team at NIU but we put up good numbers, We were small but we had heart and effort and you can’t beat that.
But its more than just heart and effort right? Technique and fundamentals – how do those also set you apart?
Definitely – we worked on technique in all we did. We practiced our handwork and reaction timing – on everything from rushing the passer and run plays to draws and screens. There’s a lot of learning how to read plays and understanding the techniques through all of that.
I also did a lot of work with our offensive linemen, working on my moves.
Tell me more about that – how do you develop your pass rush moves and approach to rushing the passer? Is it a confidence thing?
Yes and no. I believe strongly in – and practice – studying film on everyone I go up against each week. I adapt all I do by studying the guys I’m going up against. The tackles, guards, running backs… I go against all of them over the course of a game. If I notice a tackle take a quick step outside, I may go inside. If I see guys do something excessive, I’m going to try and use it against them if I can.
How has your experiences playing running back and safety in high school helped you now as a linebacker?
It gives me an advantage – I played so many different positions and each required a different set of techniques. None of those leave you. You acquire that knowledge and it stays with you.
You also need to be real quick as a running back – you need that quickness versus offensive linemen. That quickness helped create nightmares for offensive linemen.
Any mentors you shape your game after?
I always watched Von Miller and modeled my game after him – I never met him or had any connection with him – but the thing is, he’s only one and a half inches taller than I am. He’s not that much bigger than me.
And I’ll be watching TJ Watt’s film more. He’s crazy athletic. I’d like to have a good relationship with him – he could be a good mentor for me – he and Anthony Chickillo. They could be awesome for me. Anthony already reached out to me actually
You just signed a contract – how are you preparing for the affects of making that kind of money?
Yeah, I have an advisor to help me with that. I’m not a guy to flaunt things and show off. If I walked through an airport no one would recognize me! I’m a country-style kid – not a guy to wear hats with feathers. Some guys can pull that off but not me! I’m lowkey and smart with money. All I want is a wife – and I have a fiance’ now – and my family. And for toys – all I want is a truck!
Lastly – what should fans know about you as a person off the field – not as a football player?
I’m an energetic, fun guy. Like I said – a country-style kid. I like to hunt and fish and like being there for fans – love going to fan events. Now, I’m ready to go have fun in Pittsburgh!