ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Maybe it’s time to stop referring to Steve Smith of the New York Giants as the other Steve Smith.
Sure, Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers is a four-time Pro Bowl pick who is still one of the NFL’s top receivers.
Steve Smith of the Giants doesn’t deserve second billing though, not after last season. The fourth-year receiver shattered New York’s single-season team record with 107 catches, earning his first Pro Bowl berth.
What made the emergence more impressive was that Smith stepped up with the Giants looking for someone to replace now imprisoned Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress.
Smith smiled when asked if it was time for him to stop being called the other Smith.
“That would be nice,” he said half laughing. “I want to go out there and show it again this year, just to show everybody. He’s (Carolina-Smith) had a lot of great seasons. I want to go out there and do it again.”
Smith has come to Giants’ camp at the University at Albany as the undisputed leader of a very young receiving group that features Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks as the No. 2 and 3 targets for Eli Manning.
Manningham and Nicks are constantly picking Smith’s brain for tips, which is kind of funny.
Manningham is in his third season and is 24 years old. Nicks is in his second season and is 22.
Steve Smith is in his fourth year and is the old man at 25.
“It’s kind of weird because they are listening to me and I’m still kind of young, too,” Smith said. “It feels good.”
What Manningham and Nicks can see in Smith is his work ethic. After almost every practice, Smith seems to hang around to catch a few extra passes, to talk to the coaches or Manning or to simply work on a move, looking for perfection.
“He’s a guy who went to the Pro Bowl last year, but he’s also the first guy, one of the first guys, on the field getting extra jugs work, and staying out there and catching off the jugs after,” new receivers coach Sean Ryan said. “So I mean his work ethic, that’s a leader.”
Unlike Nicks, last year’s first-round pick, Smith isn’t a speedster. He is a polished route runner who can make defensive backs look silly with his moves.
When they are not expecting it, he can also run right past them. The other day in practice, he beat cornerback Corey Webster and safety Antrel Rolle on a deep post pattern in catching a pass from Manning.
“Steve Smith has continued to grow and develop as an inside receiver, which I think all of us expected,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. “But he also did a great job when he was outside, which is something I don’t think all of us had anticipated. He’s just a complete, all-around receiver.”
Smith also has become Manning’s go-to guy. His 1,220 yards receiving were third in the NFC last season and eighth in the league. His seven touchdown catches led the Giants, and were six more than he had in his first two seasons.
Injuries limited Smith early in his rookie season, but he came on late as a third-down receiver, making five catches in the Super Bowl for 50 yards. The Southern California star had a team-high 57 catches in 2008. His career took off last season.
“Last year really was the first time that he was a full-time starter, moving around,” Manning said. “We put him in different spots and he had a great season.”
Manning and Smith have become a team. The two sit next to each other in the meeting room and talk while they’re watching game or practice videotapes. They also talk a lot between plays.
“He’s just gotten really good at understanding defenses and getting a feel for where the open holes are and finding ways to get open,” Manning said.
“We feel so comfortable out there,” Smith added. “There are times I can look at him like, ‘You missed me.’ I feel like I can do that now. All that is is reps and being in the meeting room, talking to him and building that rapport up.”
Smith has worked extremely hard preparing for 2010, spending many a day running in the water and sand at Redondo Beach in California. He used to run the dunes at Manhattan Beach, but they were shut down this season.
“I just want to make a lot of plays every game,” Smith said. “I want to be a consistent playmaker.”
Smith also is willing to share the spotlight. When asked about the possibility of the Giants signing Burress again if he were to be released from prison, Smith didn’t hesitate.
“That’s cool,” he said. “We won with Plaxico. We won a Super Bowl. He would take a lot of pressure off the receivers if he came back.”
And that would open things up even more for Steve Smith.
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