- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Washington Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith will try to set aside all the memories, sacks, wins and emotions this weekend when he travels to Buffalo, N.Y., for the first time as an opposing player.

“It certainly will be a special week, but I just have to make sure I don’t lose sight of the focus of what the main goal of going back to Buffalo represents,” said Smith, one of the NFL’s premier players during his 15 seasons with the Bills. “My family will be up there; I’ll see a lot of friends that I’ve made over the years. But I have a job to do when I get there.”

Smith, 40, recorded 171 of his 1961/2 career sacks with Buffalo, helping the Bills to four Super Bowls. Although he departed on acrimonious terms after the 1999 season, the Bills remain such an integral part of his career that agent Leigh Steinberg has incorporated them and the Redskins into a logo in anticipation of Smith breaking the NFL sack record.

Smith needs just 11/2 sacks to match Reggie White’s total, and they could come in this weekend’s game between the Redskins and Bills.

But there also have been questions about Smith’s production. Washington’s pass rush has been an obvious deficiency in most games this season, and only five teams have posted fewer sacks than the Redskins’ nine. The problem became glaring again Sunday when the team had none in a 35-13 loss to Tampa Bay, which threw for four touchdowns.

Blame for the lack of pass rush has been sketchy. Smith and fellow defensive end Renaldo Wynn have said repeatedly the pressure is there, but that opposing passers are getting rid of the ball so quickly that the pass rush is hard to see. Coaches have supported that theory.

Smith also noted the lack of an interior rush, which wasn’t a problem last season when defensive tackle Daryl Gardener was a Redskin and Smith registered nine sacks. And in fact, Smith’s full sack this season came Oct.5 at Philadelphia, when the interior rush clearly was the best it has been this year.

Another factor could be the Redskins’ hesitation to use linebacker LaVar Arrington as a third-down defensive end, doing so only in certain situations. Arrington, despite being frustrated in that role, led Washington with 11 sacks last season; this year he has just one.

Defensive coordinator George Edwards still feels Smith is productive in his 19th NFL season, but the coach also believes Smith might be getting too many snaps. Yesterday Edwards said he plans to start limiting Smith’s time on the field.

“We’ve tried to watch that,” Edwards said. “We haven’t been as good as we’d like to. The hardest thing with Bruce is, you go through the course of a game, and he’s getting you pressure and he’s playing decent against the run, [so] the hardest thing is to pull him out. You know what he has done in the past. and his capabilities are still there.

“We’ve got to be disciplined to limit his reps. When you’re in the heat of battle, he’s an old warrior. He’s going to want to battle. You’re in a fight where you’re [asking], ‘Do we want to limit this guy this time?’ We’re just going to see how it goes and what the game dictates.”

Smith’s status has been a touchy subject for several years now. The personnel staff of former coach Marty Schottenheimer was set to cut him after the 2001 season before Schottenheimer was fired. Then defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis seriously considered parting with Smith after the 2002 season, but Lewis became Cincinnati’s head coach. And this offseason Regan Upshaw was signed to replace Smith, but Smith won the job in training camp.

Yesterday, Smith said he was aware of Edwards’ plans and said he wouldn’t mind sitting more often.

“We’ve talked about it, and it makes sense,” Smith said. “I think over the past two weeks, I’ve had more reps than any other defensive lineman on the team. But that’s something we’ll both continue to monitor because we want to do what’s in the best interest for the team.”

Smith wasn’t nearly so calm when the Bills cut him, running back Thurman Thomas and wide receiver Andre Reed — known as Buffalo’s Big Three — on Feb.10, 2000, due in large part to a salary cap crunch.

The Bills offered to keep Smith if he agreed to have his $4.4 million salary cut in half. He refused. Then, angry at his release and the fact Buffalo never offered to keep Thomas, Smith told the Buffalo News, “This organization did not show any class in this situation.”

But 31/2 years have helped soften his hard feelings. Now he is looking forward to his return and a halftime ceremony to honor linebacker Darryl Talley, whose name and number will be put on the Bills’ Wall of Fame. He said he harbors no ill feelings for team management and that he barely has time these days to reminisce about the good times.

“It was a great, great time and era to be a Buffalo Bill,” Smith said. “It was special. We did some special things that no one else in the history of the game was able to achieve. I cherish those moments when I talk to the guys, but other than that I really don’t focus on it right now because I’m too busy trying to get things worked out in my house.”

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