Tip Sheet notes: Rise of Taj
By simulating Reggie Bush, practice-squad player Taj Smith playing vital role for Colts
Originally Published: February 5, 2010By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com
MIAMI -- He has never suited up for a regular-season game, and Taj Smith won't dress for Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday, either. But the practice-squad wide receiver, who has been waived twice in his career and has been all but an afterthought this week, is critical to the Indianapolis Colts' attempt to win a second league championship in four seasons.
Smith, 26, is one of two players -- second-year tailback Chad Simpson is the other -- who have simulated New Orleans Saints slippery running back/punt returner Reggie Bush during the Indianapolis defense's preparations for the game.
"I've watched [video] of him, and I've tried to give our guys the best 'look' I can," said Smith, who was virtually ignored during Super Bowl interview sessions. "I've lined up all over the place, just like he does. And I've tried hard to duplicate his quickness. It's tough, because he's so special, but I think I've done OK."
Originally signed by Green Bay as an undrafted free agent out of college in 2008, the former Syracuse standout has bobbed and weaved through the Colts' defense for nearly two weeks as the unit has tried to conjure up ways to stop Bush from producing his signature big plays Sunday night.
Corralling Bush, who can be a matchup nightmare in space, is vital to the Colts' success. The rusher is averaging 9.5 yards per catch (up from 7.1 yards during the regular season) and an eye-popping 27.3 yards per punt return in the playoffs. Saints coach Sean Payton likes run toss plays to Bush at tailback, flex him as a wide receiver and throw him the ball in the flat or even up the field.
Much of the responsibility for controlling Bush will fall to Indianapolis weakside linebacker Clint Session, but the three-year veteran acknowledged the Colts will have to pursue him with plenty of bodies.
"If one guy misses him, and believe me, he's hard to corner with just one player, two more [defenders] have to be right there to hit him," Session said.
Simpson, another undrafted free agent who has carried just 30 times in two seasons and averaged 23.4 yards on 53 kickoff returns, insisted earlier this week that he is just as fast as Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner.
"To tell the honest truth, maybe faster," said Simpson, who also has been released twice in his career. "Let's hope that we helped our [defense] get ready. It helped me, I know that. Hey, man, maybe I'll go out and make a big play, too."
SUPER BOWL XLIV