Sitting down with Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith is not an easy task. The soft-spoken Smith prefers to stay out of the limelight. The mention of being a Pro Bowl performer and one of the Jaguars' most consistent performers the last five seasons makes him uneasy.
It is a byproduct of how he and his sister, Danielle, and brother, Carl, were raised by Ruby and Dan Smith in Albany, Ga. Don't talk about it, just do it.
"They would just go to work and get it done," Smith said. "Just go out and earn it."
Smith, a four-year letterman at Georgia Tech, has let his actions do the talking since arriving in Jacksonville as a second-round pick in 2004. He was immediately inserted into the starting lineup as a rookie and hasn't looked back. He has been one of the club's top two tacklers in four of his five seasons and quickly emerged as one of the NFL's best linebackers.
Teammates and coaches praise Smith, but his name is rarely mentioned in national circles. The slight causes no harm.
"I don't really pay attention to all of that stuff," Smith said. "I just try to keep it level, never too high or never too low. I do what I do and everything else will take care of itself. I think if you get to worrying about where your name is or all of the outside stuff then you lose sight of what you need to do."
While he is not a self-promoter, the skills he brings to the Jaguars are impossible to ignore.
Durability. Smith has missed only three games for injuries in five seasons, including two last season when strained his groin against Green Bay on Dec. 14 and was placed on injured reserve.
Consistency. He has surpassed 100 tackles in four consecutive seasons, including a career-high 170 in 2006. He has recorded at least two sacks in four of five seasons including a career-high four in 2005.
"He is a cornerstone," Jaguars linebacker Clint Ingram said. "He is going to lay it all out and play all the way through the whistle. He will do whatever it takes to get it done. You are never going to hear him talk about being tired, bending down or quitting. He will never let up. If you had 11 guys like him then you know you are going to win."
Playmaker. In addition to his 100-plus tackles, Smith is a "stat sheet stuffer" with 13 career sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown against Houston in 2007. He recorded 17 tackles in two different games in 2006 and led the team with 15 stops in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at New England in 2007.
Consummate teammate. Injuries to the linebacker position have caused Smith to be moved around. Of his 74 career starts, 53 have been on the outside and 21 in the middle.
"Great professional, doesn't complain and has a great work ethic," said Ingram, Smith's closest friend on the team. "He is not going to beat on his chest at all."
The Jaguars struggled defensively in 2008, giving up 330.9 yards per game while dealing with numerous injuries. The club concluded the season with 15 players on injured reserve including seven starters. Only four players started all 16 games for the Jaguars including only one defensive player, cornerback Brian Williams.
"It was the worst year I have ever been involved with as far as how it went," Smith said. "It was tough. There was so much going on and it's all the past. We can take some situations from last year and learn from it. We aren't going to sit here and dwell on it because we have a regular season coming up and everybody is getting ready."
Smith and his teammates are ready for a return to the defense that has become the norm in Jacksonville. Since head coach Jack Del Rio took the helm in 2003, the defense has ranked among the NFL's top 12 defenses in five of six seasons. The Jaguars rank sixth in the NFL since 2003 as they allowed 305.2 yards per game.
"I don't like talking much about it because we have to get on the field and prove it," Smith said. "I just want us to be a team that when our opponents look at the film on us, they say, 'Those guys are out there eating. They are young and hungry.'"
Smith, who was named team captain in 2008, knows what it will take to get back to the elite level.
"The whole defensive line plays a major role," Smith said. "The game is won in the trenches with the offensive and defensive lines. It rolls off them. We play behind them. A running back can't run without the blocking. A quarterback can't throw without protection. We can't scrape if the defensive line is not playing well. When the big guys up front are rolling the whole squad is rolling. It is won and lost in the trenches and having a nasty defensive line get up and destroy things. If they are holding up the linemen and we are making plays it's a win-win."
People close to Smith know him as a quiet guy, but don't let the laid-back attitude fool you. He has a reputation in the locker room as one of the club's top practical jokers.
"You can't take everything serious all the time," Smith said. "You have to keep it light sometimes. There is a time for work and we all know that. Sometimes you joke around and mess with the guys and there is no harm in that."
Success hasn't and won't change Smith. He remains one of the club's most consistent players in the community, making numerous appearances each month.
"It's something that I really enjoy doing especially, with kids," Smith said. "I know how important it can be. If it impacts one person then it's a success. It doesn't matter what it is. You put a smile on someone's face and you never know what a person is going through until you sit down and talk with them, or even if you just walk by somebody and ask them how they are doing. You never know what is going through their mind or what their situation is."
With the interview coming to an end, Smith is asked again what it would mean to be recognized as one of the elite at his position with a trip to the Pro Bowl.
"I have a ton of friends that say that stuff, but at the end of the day I can't pick myself to be in it," Smith said. "The only thing I can do is produce on the field. It is what it is and you can't get caught up in it."