Posted December 22, 2011 on
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New England Patriots
New York Giants
When Willie Smith became the only undrafted rookie to make the Washington Redskins' opening day roster, he celebrated by spiffing up his 2000 all-white Crown Victoria.
''I noticed that he had got his windows tinted and he had gotten rims on it,'' running back Roy Helu said, ''so I just joked around and said how he's changed ever since he's made it big-time.''
Helu has kept it up all season, making up stories about Smith getting accessories like subwoofers and satellite radio. When Helu told the story to reporters this week, Smith was beside himself.
''Oh, come on, Roy,'' Smith bellowed across the locker room Wednesday. ''You told them I got big-time? Got tinted windows?''
The truth is that Smith only got the rims - the car's windows were already tinted - and that Helu does the shtick because he says Smith is actually the opposite of flashy. Besides, a newbie at the fringe of the roster doesn't need to be spending big on his car.
For most of the season, there wasn't much reason to tell such stories about Smith - that is, until Trent Williams was suspended two weeks ago for the rest of the year for violating the NFL's substance policy. Now the left tackle from East Carolina is protecting Rex Grossman's blindside, having made his NFL debut against the New England Patriots before getting his first start in Sunday in a victory over the New York Giants.
That means he's already faced two monster pass-rushers, Andre Carter and Jason Pierre-Paul. Now he has an assignment that looks even more daunting: On Saturday, the Redskins host the Minnesota Vikings and Jared Allen, who needs 5 1/2 sacks over his last two games to break the NFL single-season record.
It has mismatch written all over it.
''I'm going to have to go out there and just be tight on everything and fundamentally sound, just to even have a chance to block this guy,'' Smith said, ''because he's just that good.''
At least from a big-picture view, the results from Smith's first two games are surprisingly good. The Redskins scored 27 against the Patriots and 23 against the Giants, their best two-game points output since September. Smith is playing next to another rookie - left guard Maurice Smith, who took over after Kory Lichtensteiger's injury - while Tyler Polumbus has been subbing for injured right tackle Jammal Brown.
All those changes have forced offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to become more creative with formations and play designs to overcome the inevitable shortcomings. Smith might be 1-0 as a starter, but even his teammates acknowledge he has a ways to go.
''He knows he's going to have to get better,'' right guard Chris Chester said, ''and he is getting better, in my opinion. And I think he's doing a great job for us - all things considered.''
Smith said he's working on his fundamentals, learning to better use his hands and feet to get maximum leverage and finish off blocks. Like many rookies before him, he's finding the game is tougher than he thought it would be during all those weeks he watched from the sideline.
''You see the guys out there,'' Smith said, ''and you're like, `Man I can do this. I can do what he's doing.' But then when you get out there, you see how hard it really is, and you see how hard you've got to go out there and practice.''
Meanwhile, Smith's sudden burst of fame is drawing even more grief from Helu, who took notice of the reporters crowding around the lineman's locker.
''Look at Willie Smith!'' Helu called out. ''Getting the shine over there.''
Notes: Shanahan said suspended players Williams and TE Fred Davis will begin conditioning workouts at Redskins Park this week, but will not take part in meetings. The team had to wait for a ruling from the NFL to find out whether the players would be allowed at the facility under the new collective bargaining agreement. ... Brown (groin), Helu (toe, knee), TE Mike Sellers (elbow) and LB London Fletcher (ankle) were limited at practice Wednesday.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP
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