|Photo by Michael C. Hebert/Saints|
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans outside linebacker Will Smith, one of the Saints' top pass-rushers during the past nine seasons, has a knee injury that will sideline him for the 2013 season, a person familiar with the situation said.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the team has not commented publicly on Smith's injury, which occurred Sunday during an exhibition game against Houston.
Smith, drafted 18th overall by New Orleans in 2004, spent his first nine seasons as a defensive end. This year, he switched to outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme.
Smith was a projected starter, as was fellow outside linebacker Victor Butler, who also is recovering from knee surgery that will sideline him most or all of the season.
Now it appears that fourth-year pro Junior Galette and third-year pro Martez Wilson will step into starting roles after each of them missed substantial portions of the preseason. Galette has an unspecified leg injury, while Wilson has only recently returned to practice wearing a brace over his left elbow, which he dislocated early in training camp.
The extent of Smith's injury was first reported by the website Pro Football Talk.
The Saints were confident Smith would be effective in Ryan's new defense because he was expected to serve in primarily a pass-rushing role and only sporadically drop into short pass coverage.
He had one sack this preseason during the Saints' victory over Oakland on Aug. 16. He was also credited with a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit this preseason.
Smith said he'd lost about 10 pounds, down to around 268, to handle some of the outside linebacker duties which will be new to him.
Smith had played in no fewer than 14 games in any of his first nine seasons. His best season, statistically, was in 2009, when he had 13 sacks for the lone Super Bowl championship squad in Saints history.
As recently as last week, Smith expressed confidence he would thrive in his adjusted role.
"For the most part, I'm going to be doing the same thing I've always done and that's why I said it wasn't that big of a transition," Smith said.
Instead, Smith will miss an entire season for the first time in what is now his 10th year in the NFL.