Smith admits he's still rusty from off-season surgery

CBS SportsLine wire reports
Sept. 18, 1998

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Some questioned whether Bruce Smith was hurt, but after watching his pass-rush last week, one thing is clear: This was not the same player who has terrorized opposing quarterbacks for 13 seasons.

The Buffalo Bills defensive end, still recovering from off-season knee surgery, has overcome physical problems before. He missed 11 games in 1991 with a knee injury, but rebounded with 14 sacks the following year.

He was in his 20s then; now he's 35.

"Ten tackles is good, but my pass rush was horrendous to me," Smith said. "I'm not able to turn the corner the way I'm accustomed to doing and I think that's from being rusty."

SMITH HAD MICROFRACTURE SURGERY on his knee in February. According to Dr. Richard Steadman, who performed the procedure, recovery can take up to one year.

Smith sat out the season opener against San Diego, but returned to make 10 tackles and one-half sack against Miami.

Even rusty, Smith has proven to be as good as most defensive linemen in the NFL. The undersized 273-pounder is second on the NFL's career sack list with 1541/2.

"I've been around Bruce a long time and he wasn't the player that he wants to be against Miami," said linebacker Mark Pike, who has played with Smith for 12 seasons. "But still having Bruce on the field is a big boost for our team. The tackle who lines up against him has got to have a little lump in his throat, whether Bruce is healthy or not."

Last week Smith went against seven-time Pro Bowler Richmond Webb. The opposing tackle this week will be St. Louis' Orlando Pace, the first overall pick in the 1997 draft.

Smith's chances of adding to his sack total this week aren't good. He will face one of the best young offensive lines in the game and an agile quarterback in Tony Banks. Plus, Smith's knee hasn't been responding well this season.

"THERE'S SOME SWELLING AND pain in there," Smith said. ``The Bruce Smith that my teammates, opponents and coaches know is working his butt off to get back in rare form and unfortunately it takes time."

Smith said he has no intention of missing the game against St. Louis. His teammates aren't so certain.

"He practiced (Friday), but who knows?" said Sean Moran, his teammate on the defensive line. "It's a game-time decision, but he'll probably go. It's all about how he feels on game day. It's been giving him problems this week, so who knows if he'll play or not."

The Bills will need a healthy Smith against St. Louis. A loss would mark the first time Buffalo has started the season 0-3 since his rookie season.

"This is definitely the biggest game of the season right now," Moran said. "If we go 0-3, it's going to be a long season. We have to win this game. There's no doubt about it."