He says his trash talking actually started on the basketball court years ago, the natural byproduct of participating in a New York summer street tournament that included NBA players.
It’s hard to doubt Shaun Smith on this, especially when one learns that dunks were worth three points in the event, appropriately named Dunker’s Delight.
“You know you had to be talking in a tournament like that,” Smith said, “so I talked a lot of smack on the basketball court and I took it onto the football field.”
His mouth has never really stopped since. The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Titans defensive tackle has become an unabashed, unapologetic trash-talker on the practice field and in games — one of the best in the NFL, in his own humble opinion.
Whether Smith’s verbal volleys make a significant Sunday difference is debatable.
He feels they do, that they tend to wear down the confidence of opponents and motivate his teammates. On the other hand, there have been times when his impulsive behavior has led to trouble and to pink slips.
But if nothing else, Smith brings a very loud presence to a Titans team that lacked vocal leaders the past couple of seasons.
“He is a lot of fun and you need guys like him,” Coach Mike Munchak said. “I think he’s refreshing in a way. I think that gets guys going a little bit. It’s almost like having music — noise to get your mind off things. He does a good job in the locker room and on the field during the game because he backs it up with how he plays.”
Signed after the lockout to bolster the Titans’ shoddy run defense, Smith has only been in Nashville a few weeks. But it hasn’t taken the Brooklyn native long to get in his comfort zone.
He takes relentless comical jabs at offensive and special teams players, reserving some of his most pointed shots for wide receiver Nate Washington and kicker Rob Bironas. He often starts yelling “decoy” when Washington lines up and rides Bironas as a “fat little kicker.”
“Bironas is a kicker and kickers don’t do much at practice,” Smith said. “Nate and I have history when he was at Pittsburgh and I was at Cincinnati. But I mess with everyone — Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt. I’m a team jokester but also a leader, so they look at me to pick things up and motivate guys.”
Some teammates appear to take Smith in stride.
Bironas dumped a handful of Payday candy bars in front of Smith’s spot on the line during a recent practice, just before the team was scheduled to work on field goals.
“I figured if he was chewing on a candy bar, he wouldn’t be mouthing off as much,” Bironas said. “He’s not harmful; he’s really all smiles. He barks a lot, but he doesn’t bite until there’s a real opponent out there.”
Washington tried another method for silencing Smith and found success with it.
“It seems like music is the thing that gets him going, so instead of playing what we usually do in the weight room, we played some Frank Sinatra to get him to shut up,” Washington said. “Frank Sinatra had him calmed down. He definitely wasn’t feeling it. That was the quietest I ever heard him.”
Smith’s actions aren’t always tolerated with such good humor.
When he played for the Cleveland Browns in 2008, Smith reportedly hit then-teammate Brady Quinn in the face after they got into a verbal altercation in the weight room.
Eight months later, the Browns cut Smith during training camp, one day after he and defensive line coach Bryan Cox got into a spat during practice.
And just a couple of weeks later the Detroit Lions cut Smith, not long after he reportedly verbally accosted Browns General Manager George Kokinis in a stadium hallway following a preseason game between Cleveland and Detroit.
“There’s been some incidents, but that’s life,” Smith said. “You just try to keep going.”
Smith spent 2010 with the Kansas City Chiefs, who saw their surprisingly successful season ended by the Baltimore Ravens, who visit LP Field on Sunday to face the Titans.
Smith figures to have plenty of verbal battles with a team he became very familiar with while playing in the AFC North for parts of six years.
“I talked smack to them in the playoffs last year,” Smith said. “Me and (linebacker) Terrell Suggs got into a little shouting match, so I’m sure I’ll hear from him.”
Ravens safety Ed Reed said his team has plenty of talkers so Smith shouldn’t faze them.
“We all say something at some point,” Reed said, “ … but it’s all out of fun and all out of respect.”
First and foremost, Smith hopes to be a physical presence against the Ravens, a first line of defense against running back Ray Rice, who rushed for more than 100 yards against a respected Pittsburgh Steelers defense last week.
But if a little trash talk helps the cause of the Titans, who are underdogs in their home opener, then expect Smith to be the first to open his mouth.
“When I’m talking smack, I feel like it gets other guys going out there,” Smith said. “They get riled up and they get going even more, and then you become like bullies out there.”
Reach John Glennon at 615-259-8262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.