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Smith Having 'Special' Effect So Far

Danny Smith approaches life with an aggressive, go get 'em attitude. It's what he looks for when evaluating football players. It's how he conducts special teams practices at Redskins Park.

And it's how he got into coaching in the first place.

Smith entered the coaching ranks at Central Catholic High School, his alma mater, in Pittsburgh. But first he had to convince the school's football coach that he was right for the job.

"There was a defensive backs coaching job open and I went over to the coach's house to interview for the job," Smith said. "After two hours, I had rearranged all the furniture in his living room, representing players with couches, and everything like that. He said, 'Danny, if I give you the job, will you get out of here?' I said 'Yes' and he gave me the job. So I rearranged the furniture back, got in my car and left. That's a true story."

Smith worked his way up through high school and college coaching, making it to the NFL in 1995 as an assistant coach with Philadelphia. He came to Washington earlier this year--along with Gregg Williams--after three seasons coaching special teams in Buffalo.

Since special teams are often populated with young players, Smith often works with rookies and first-year players, many of whom starred in college but may not have played much on special teams. What those players don't realize, Smith says, is that a successful NFL career often starts on kickoff and punt coverage units.

And if they don't have that desire to run downfield and--as Smith puts it--"whack someone," then they're not going to make the grade on his special teams units.

"It's one thing for me to go tell them to run down there, double team and go tackle. But then when they do go down there and someone they didn't see whacks them with a hard hit, they realize. 'Oh, that's what he was talking about.' By then, it's a little late. You have to have the aggressive attitude to start with."

That's why, early in the offseason, Gibbs and Smith worked together to ensure a veteran presence on special teams. Experienced special teams players James Thrash, Khary Campbell and Tom Tupa were among players added in the offseason.

"We didn't want to have anyone who wasn't a professional in those spots," Gibbs said.

Following Sunday's 16-10 win over Tampa Bay, Gibbs praised the punt coverage and field goal units, but said improvement was needed on kickoff coverage. The Redskins gave up several long returns to the Bucs' Frank Murphy, including a 54-yarder.

On Monday, Gibbs said he would meet with Smith and other coaches to evaluate the kickoff coverage units.

"Most of the time it was us getting blocked," Gibbs said. "We got blocked at the point of attack and I'm not sure we ran the way we were supposed to, either. We were kind of hanging back some and when you hang back on kickoff returns, you get in trouble."

Last season, Smith's kickoff coverage units finished third in the NFL, so Gibbs expects improvement. Throughout the offseason and during training camp, Gibbs was impressed with Smith's approach to teaching special teams.

"He has a drill for every single part of special teams practice," Gibbs said. "I've never seen that before. So we're in very good shape there. He's very enthusiastic, works them hard and gets on them, too."

As most fans who attended Redskins training camp in August can attest, Smith was always very vocal during practices, chastising players for mistakes and shouting out words of encouragement.

Gibbs wants the special teams portion of practice held at the beginning to help set the tone for the day.

Said Smith: "We're trying to get things set to the way we believe in--the way we have been effective with, that we know will work. And when I say we, I mean the whole staff. Special teams are very important to this program, and obviously that starts with Coach Gibbs."

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