Keith Smith excited to play in Gruden's fullback paradise


Keith Smith has bragging rights over Derek Carr.

The San Jose State alum once ruined Carr’s day and Fresno State’s shot at a BCS bowl, intercepting Carr late to secure a Spartans victory over the undefeated Bulldogs. Smith’s dramatic takeaway happened five seasons ago now, but moment still comes up in conversation.

“Absolutely,” Smith said Tuesday. “He’s always talking about ‘Go ‘Dogs’ and I’m like ‘yeah, OK, let’s talk about that interception.’”

Carr and Smith got to know each other at the 2013 Mountain West media day, as representatives from rival schools. They squared off several times, with Carr as Bulldogs signal caller and Smith as the Spartans’ defensive leader. Former rivals are working together now, tied by more than a Raiders logo.

Smith will now help Carr move the ball after spending his athletic life preventing it from doing so.

The Dallas Cowboys converted Smith to fullback before the 2016 season, hoping the career linebacker could find second life on offense. It was a gamble. Smith, after all, was moving to an endangered position. Fullbacks aren’t used much these days, with several teams ignoring the spot altogether. Smith did some good work blocking for Dallas’ run game, but struck gold during this free agent period.

He linked up with new Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who plans to use a fullback extensively in a renovated scheme based on his previous stints in Oakland and Tampa Bay.

“Gruden is trying to bring back that smash mouth football,” Smith said. “That’s what us fullbacks like to do.”

Smith had the Raiders in mind when Gruden returned to coach them this winter. It was an ideal scenario that would only play out if Gruden was interested. This would be a fullback’s dream spot. Gruden could have first choice among available options.

Smith had special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia in his corner. They worked together in Dallas, where Smith was a core cover man in the kicking game. Solid game tape, work ethic and quality references were enough to make Gruden come calling.

“I almost say I spoke this into existence because hearing all the hype of him coming back and how they talked about fullbacks and me being on my contract year, I didn’t know how it would play out because I was restricted and whatnot (Dallas did not offer him an RFA tender),” Smith said. “It was kind of a dream come true because now he’s really a guy who values that position. For me to be in the position to be that guy for him, it gives me that much more motivation to be my best.”

Smith will be integral in what should be a physical run game, blocking for Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin and with a hulking offensive line. He’ll also be involved as a receiver.

Fullbacks are important parts of a Gruden passing attack – that’s the primary receiver in Spider Y2 Banana, by the way – so Smith should contribute regularly in 2018. Smith is a physical, old-school player and feels like he hit the lottery joining a team that values his skill set on offense and special teams.

“The whole hype and aura behind Gruden’s plans of going back to this smash mouth run-game is exciting because that means I’m going to be hitting more people and getting more play time,” Smith said. “I think that’s going to be big for us: establishing the run and making some noise with the pads.”

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