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Saints' camp competitive

By By Richard Dark / EMG sports writer
Aug. 7, 2003
NEW ORLEANS The environment of an NFL training camp is an ever-changing one filled with heated competition at each and every position. In a situation where nearly 90 men are competing for 53 spots, it's a dog eat dog situation.
It's in this highly charged setting that nearly every coach favors experience over youth. That seems to be one of the factors working against Meridian native Kenny Smith's bid to become a starter in Rick Venturi's defense.
While it's no surprise that top draft pick Johnathan Sullivan, the No. 6 overall pick whose holdout was rewarded with a $19 million contract, was elevated to starter in favor of Smith recently at defensive tackle, it has to be perplexing to him to have to take a backseat to a player that decided to forgo all voluntary offseason work and reported to both mini-camp and training camp late and out of shape, as the veteran Grady Jackson did. Jackson, a resident of Madison who also has a larger contract than Smith, will more than likely be given the starting nose tackle position.
And although it's every player's ultimate ambition to make an NFL roster on gameday, one gets the feeling that Smith knows there will be other opportunities if somehow he gets lost in the glut of talent this team now has at tackle.
The switch at right tackle came as soon as the speedy rookie Sullivan came into camp late last week and Smith, who said he was never told officially, was taken by surprise.
If he sounds confused, it may have to do with sound bites on him coming out of the organization all summer long.
Saints coach Jim Haslett had plenty of positives for reporters on hand at Tuesday morning's practice.
Smith, who played in nine games and tallied 3.5 sacks and 28 total tackles, alluded to the fact that what is said and what happens on the field might be two different things.
And while he may seem somewhat bewildered on how he is viewed by the staff, that isn't to say he doesn't know which way to go toward clearing the air, namely, working ever harder and always striving to keep on improving.
One could make the argument that Smith is the most versatile of all the lineman in coach Sam Clancy's stable, having the ability to play on the ends as well as both inside positions, as well as having seen action at each.