From the time the Jets selected safety Eric Smith in the third round of the 2006 draft until the day he was released in February 2013, Smith had the opportunity to experience life in the NFL from a player's perspective.
But having been hired last month to serve as a seasonal coaching intern for the Green & White, Smith is now preparing to immerse himself in the game from a different perspective.
"I'm looking forward to the other aspects of football," he said, "what goes into the game plan, how these coaches go about it, the type of film they watch, how they handle the personnel and all the other things that go into it. This is a place I'm familiar with, the coaches around here are great, so it couldn't be a better spot for me."
That familiarity stems from the fact that all seven of Smith's NFL playing years were spent donning a New York Jets jersey. Having shared a locker room with just over half of the players on the current 53-man roster just 15 months ago, "It's going to be different," he said.
"I'm waiting on that day to come because when I go out there and start yelling at one of them for doing something wrong, it's going to be a little strange. That's kind of what I did when I was here, though, make sure everybody was in the right spot, make sure everybody knew what they were doing, so it's going to be kind of the same thing except I might get to blow a whistle at them."
Smith played in 96 games as a pro, starting 36 and racking up six interceptions and 3.5 sacks on defense. Throughout his career, however, he augmented his play in the secondary with a primary role on our special teams (see his blocked punt vs. New England in '09, above). That's where Smith really had eyes — and pads — popping.
"You've got to be wired a little bit differently to be successful on special teams," he said. "You're just running full speed, 40, 50 yards avoiding guys, and then you're trying to slam into somebody else. Or then again when you're trying to block somebody, you run back about 30 yards, they've got that 40-yard sprint, and you've just got to get in the way."
It should come as no surprise then that Smith's internship will involve working with the special teams unit. While he'll be assisting first-year Jets coordinator Thomas McGaughey, it was his playing-days coordinator, Mike Westhoff, who may have served as a catalyst to bringing him on as a coach.
"I had kind of thought about what I was going to do after football when I was playing," Smith said. "Then I took that year off and was kind of looking at what to do after that and that's when I got the phonecall from these guys. I think it was a Westhoff doing, just kind of talking back and forth between Rex [Ryan], him and me. I figured it was a good opportunity."
Smith received a few calls to play for some other NFL teams following his Feb. 19 release, but "I figured I was healthy, I could think, I could walk — probably time to shut it down and get out while I'm ahead."
Of course, he didn't exactly stay out of harm's way for long. As the summer approached and boredom set in, Smith ended up finding himself employed by a tree-cutting service.
"They were teaching me to climb and all this other stuff," he said. "It can be dangerous if you're not paying attention because you've got 400-pound limbs falling from the tree and guys 50 feet up in the air cutting stuff, but it was fun."
Having an eye in the sky didn't stop Smith from watching the Jets on Sundays, though, and he was impressed with what he saw. Now it's time to continue moving in the right direction.
"We've got to keep building off of where we were last year. We've got a lot of guys coming back, we're going to get some new additions that are going to help us," he said, "and hopefully we can keep progressing and getting better."