RENTON — In his first full practice after offseason ankle surgery, linebacker Malcolm Smith made the play of the day.
Smith hauled in a one-handed interception of a pass from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, then returned it for a touchdown down the sideline. As he ran, many of his teammates jogged with him and hollered “MVP” — a nod to his interception return for a touchdown against the Broncos that helped him be named Super Bowl MVP.
Smith shrugged at the play.
“One practice isn’t going to do it all,” he said.
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn called the interception “terrific,” but said it’s expected of Smith by now.
“One of the things that Malcolm brings is that speed and that athletic ability, and I think that showed on the interception that he had,” Quinn said. “That’s a typical play for Malcolm, which we have grown accustomed to seeing from him in nickel (defense). That’s where he can be a real factor, behind the ball and especially in the pass game.”
Smith said he didn’t have any problems with his ankle during the season last year, but he was told in the offseason he needed to have surgery. He said the recovery from the surgery took him longer than he expected.
He likely won’t play against the Bears in an exhibition game Friday, but he has a better chance of playing in the exhibition finale next week.
Smith showed his value down the stretch last season. Filling in for injured K.J. Wright at outside linebacker, Smith used his speed to fly around the field, particularly in the passing game. He had five interceptions in his final five games and returned two of them for touchdowns. He nearly scored on a third return and also recovered a fumble in the Super Bowl.
Smith gives the Seahawks versatility at linebacker; at one point last season he said that was his greatest strength. He played SAM linebacker during the first four games last season while Bruce Irvin sat out because of suspension (the SAM linebacker is more responsible for playing near the line of scrimmage and defending the run).
But he was most effective when he played WILL linebacker late in the season, which allowed him to play in space and run free. He isn’t sure of his role for this season, and the Seahawks will have to sort that out as Irvin and Bobby Wagner return from their own injuries.
“I’m just trying to be available,” Smith said. “That was the best thing for me last season, to just be available, and hopefully the coaches can count on me when I get those opportunities.”
That’s what happened last year, when Smith stepped in to help push Seattle toward a Super Bowl — the last time he fully participated in a game or practice before Tuesday’s highlight signaled his return.
“I’ve been itching,” Smith said. “You come off a pretty good game, and we do some great stuff in the Super Bowl. It was just a lull for me. A lot of down time. A lot of watching. A lot of learning, dealing with my own emotions every day. It was good to get out here.”