PHOENIX (AP) — Malcolm Smith stood out for always being in the right spot.
He was waiting to corral Richard Sherman‘s fourth-quarter deflection for the clinching interception in the NFC championship a year ago to send Seattle to the Super Bowl.
His eyes were up and focused on Peyton Manning‘s fluttering pass that fell into his arms for a pick six in the second quarter of last year’s Super Bowl. And he hustled downfield to be in position to recover a fumble in the second half, all of which added up to the former seventh-round pick becoming an unlikely Super Bowl MVP.
Fast-forward 12 months with the Seahawks back in the Super Bowl and Smith doesn’t stand out as part of this Seattle defense. Slowed by an ankle injury since the offseason, Smith is still an important part of Seattle’s special teams, but he rarely sees the field on defense.
In Seattle’s two playoff victories, Smith was in for two defensive snaps. Both were goal line situations in the NFC championship against Green Bay.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all. I’m part of a team, that’s my role. I don’t see it as anything different,” Smith said. “Of course it’s hard not to get the reps in the game and be ready.”
Smith didn’t exactly become a household name after being named Super Bowl MVP. But he certainly became more recognizable.
He was the surprise choice, highlighted by his 69-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter that gave Seattle a 22-0 lead over Denver. Nearly anyone on Seattle’s defense could have earned MVP honors after the 43-8 rout. Smith just happened to stand out a little more than anyone else.
Of course, being MVP came with all the trappings: The day after press conference; the parade with Mickey Mouse; a new truck. But for Smith, the only difference he felt was “people want to put mics in your face now.”
“He’s handled it great. I had no concern about that. He’s had a lot of fun. It’s been a great thrill to be able to represent as an MVP in that game. He got the truck and everything,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “… He’s worked like crazy and been there for us every step of the way.”
Still, the return to the Super Bowl has not gone how Smith hoped. He was slowed throughout the offseason by ankle surgery that carried over into training camp. Smith never saw the practice field until Aug. 19.
“It didn’t go as smoothly as expected and it’s something I have to deal with,” he said.
He played 52 snaps in Week 2 against San Diego, but three weeks later didn’t see the field on defense in Washington. Smith started three games when All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner was out with a toe injury. One of the best games of Smith’s career came in a Week 7 loss at St. Louis when he had a career-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble.
But when Wagner returned after Seattle’s Week 11 loss at Kansas City, the Seahawks cut down on their rotations at linebacker. The Seahawks went almost exclusively with K.J. Wright, Bruce Irvin and Wagner, and when Irvin became a pass rusher, Seattle would bring in an extra defensive back.
Smith didn’t play a single defensive snap between Weeks 12 and 15. He was in for nine plays in Week 16 at Arizona and 16 plays in Week 17 against St. Louis, but that was it.
The decreased playing time has raised the question of Smith’s future in Seattle as he’ll become a free agent in the offseason. Smith seems realistic about his spot now and potentially in the future.
“As far as being a reserve player, I’m a seventh-round draft pick,” Smith said. “It’s not like I came in here a first-round draft pick.”