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Any room for a tweener?


Former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith is working with the Bengals pass rushers this preseason.

Chuck Smith, a second-story man who slithered into the NFL elite in the '90s, is urging the Bengals defensive linemen and linebackers to rob, steal, and heist their way into the pass rush.

"Smart pass rushers just emulate what the greats did. Dumb pass rushers think they know everything and never emulate the greats," Smith observed this week. "The pass rush history has been written. We just have to read it."

So read this. When journeyman linebacker Chris Carter tries to find a home on the Bengals roster Monday in Tampa (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and ESPN), he'll be ripping off Pat Swilling and Chris Doleman, sack artists from the previous generation.

"I just stole their moves," said Smith, a defensive end who had 58.5 sacks in nine seasons. "I'm about their size. I just took them and went with it."

Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes did his own bit of plundering to help get Smith into camp. Hayes oversees head coach Marvin Lewis' effort to fill his coaching staff with members of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship program during the voluntary sessions in the spring and training camp in the summer and he landed a gem in Smith.

"He's been telling them a lot of the same things we've been teaching, but it's always good to hear it from another perspective, from another set of eyes," Hayes said.

 Smith, 45, a pass-rush consultant who has worked with any NFL pass rusher of substance since 2002 and has worked with the top rushers coming out of the last several drafts (he had Shane Rey, Randy Gregory, and Danny Shelton this year), is on his second stint this preseason after a hitch back in the spring.

"Chuck is a passionate, knowledgeable guy," Hayes said. "He's been around the NFL and the college game. He's worked with all kinds of guys. He's a good young coach."

Left end Carlos Dunlap, whose goal this season is to break Michael Strahan's NFL record 22.5 sacks in a season, says Smith is leaving his mark.

"You look at how all our linebackers are using their hands and you can tell what he's been doing," Dunlap said.  

Carter can't believe his good fortune. How he's walked into a team with Hayes, Smith, and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Before he signed with the Bengals in the last month of last season, Carter had played four seasons and 30 games in the NFL and not any coach had tried to use him as the man that had 19.5 career sacks in 32 games at defensive end and six at outside linebacker for Fresno State. They just looked at the NFL roster specifications, stood him up at linebacker, and wondered why he was just a special teamer.

But now that he's in Cincinnati, the 6-1, 240-pound Carter can't count his positions. WILL backer. SAM backer. X backer. But most importantly, rush end in the nickel package, where he has wreaked havoc on the Bengals' young tackles and gave the Giants some problems in last week's pre-season opener.

"I'm loving every day of it. Coming in here and getting better," Carter said. "This is nothing against any coach I've had, but no coach since I've been in the NFL has taken the time to really show me, 'This is what you have to work on. This is how we have to do it.' Instead of saying, 'Do this, don't do that.' They never showed me how. Coach Jay, Chuck and Coach G are showing me how."

That's in the pass rush. Coach Matt Burke is doing it at linebacker; a key part of Carter's bid to make the team because he's still making the transition from college. If he's going to be one of the six linebackers he'll have to show at least some semblance of playing the outside spots.

But his speed off the edge is why he would make it and why he's in a titanic roster fight with Marquis Flowers. It has become a textbook battle of Flowers' athleticism and size that is the NFL linebacker standard against Carter's tweener abilities. Not big enough for right end, not fast enough at backer but gifted off the edge.

"When I played, 'Tweener,' was a bad word," Smith said. "Today, 'Tweener' means money. 'Tweener,' means pass rush.  I despised the word, 'Tweener.' Now it's looked at as a two-position guy, so it means value. In our day it didn't have any value."

At 6-2, 257, you guessed it, Smith was a tweener. But he was a speed rusher who was smart and in three seasons for the Falcons he had double-digit sacks. He's helping Carter try to find the same kind of niche.

"You've got quarterback gurus. Chuck is a pass-rush guru," Guenther said. "You don't need a lot of moves. You just need to master a few."

Dunlap won't reveal his tips. What any self-respecting second-story man would? But he and Carter and the rest are trying to become worthy descendants in the royalty of rushers. Smith took notes on speed and technique from Swilling and Doleman, two of his contemporaries. He used the cross chop that Osi Umenyiora does now, but he learned it from watching Clay Matthews Sr., whose career began 14 years before Smith's rookie season and ended the year before Smith had a career-high 12 sacks for the Falcons.

"Chris has good speed. What he has to understand is that pass rush is an art," Smith said of Carter. "Just because you're a good athlete doesn't mean you're a good pass rusher. If that was the case that's all we would have out there is little linebackers running 4.5, 4.4. It's a skill."

Smith bases his philosophy on the football version of see-the-ball-hit-the-ball, except it is hit the QB.

"Vision helps you get off the ball, vision helps with hands, vision helps with change of direction, vision helps with a counter. And you have to see the formation."

The Bengals have to figure out where they can use the art of the rush. In the last several years, they've kept linebackers like Carter, but didn't end up using them very much as pass rushers.

David Pollack and Rashad Jeanty tried it 10 years ago, but Pollack's brief career ended in injury and Jeanty was more of a run player. They signed pass rushing backer Manny Lawson four years ago, but then defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer rarely used him as a rusher, preferring his traditional 4-3 ends. Even in 2013 they used James Harrison more as a linebacker than as a rusher and now Harrison is back for his second season in Pittsburgh rushing off the edge in the 3-4.

"There just hasn't been a fit with us with some of these guys," Hayes said. "You look at our guys on the line, and we don't have any tweeners."

Indeed, Hayes has found rotational gold with basketball tall, lean guys like Dunlap and Michael Johnson off the edge. But, just like they use Wallace Gilberry as a nickel tackle, Carter could see favorable matchups. We'll see if Carter makes it just how Guenther views those types of backers. One thing is for sure. So far in the preseason Guenther is using Carter off the edge more than Lawson and Harrison.

"Chris is having a good camp," Guenther said. "He's a pro. It means something to him. He's our kind of guy."

If Carter is stealing, he'll be Smith's kind of guy, too.

"Every great pass rusher has a signature move," Smith said. "Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis. I know it and you probably do, too."

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