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Sixth-round pick Smith all smiles

He lined up as a stand-up defensive end at Northern Illinois and lived in offensive backfields all across the Mid-American Conference.

But at 6-foot and 233 pounds, Sutton Smith seemed destined for a position switch in transitioning to the NFL.

"He has to be an off-the-ball guy," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah maintained.

Even Smith seemed to be on board in the immediate aftermath of the Steelers making him the 175th overall selection with the first of their three sixth-round draft picks.

"It'll be off-the-ball linebacker a little bit, and then maybe rush the passer," Smith reported.

Yet when rookie minicamp opened at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, there was Smith on the edge, the same position from where he had amassed 30 sacks and 58 tackles for a loss at Northern Illinois, including a combined 29 sacks and 54 tackles for a loss over the last two seasons.

Inside linebacker, for a day, at least, can wait.

"It's whatever Coach (Mike) Tomlin wants to do," Smith insisted. "I'm here for whatever he needs and be able to contribute in any which way I can."

Smith's transition actually began at the Senior Bowl, where he was asked to dabble at inside linebacker.

"That was my first time ever playing it, which I felt comfortable doing," he said. "I felt like I did OK at it."

Steelers' rookies take the field for rookie minicamp

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Smith was asked to participate in the conversion drills traditionally conducted in an effort to determine whether edge rushers might potentially fit better in the NFL as an outside linebacker.

Dropping into coverage in such instances was nothing new for Smith.

"I can move in space," he insisted. "Everybody knows I can.

"Being able to display it today was good."

What Smith unquestionably does best is get ball carriers or quarterbacks on the ground in the backfield.

"It's a fun thing for me, I love doing it," he said. "It's adrenalin, I feel good when I do it and I just have a knack.

"That's what people have told me back in college, I just try to run with that."

Running around big offensive tackles is often a part of that process.

Seventh-round pick Derwin Gray of Maryland (6-4, 320) presented just such a challenge for Smith as rookie camp commenced.

"Big boy," Smith confirmed. "Quickness is better than size, I feel. Just show my speed and be able to contribute to this team any which way I can, I'm all for it.

"It doesn't matter what position."

That includes the kicking game.

"He's probably going to help (special teams coordinator) Danny Smith more than he helps me, early," defensive coordinator Keith Butler observed right after Smith had been drafted. "The way linebackers make NFL teams is they come in and make themselves very valuable on special teams and build themselves another year to try and learn what's going on with the defense."

Smith wasn't too concerned about sorting any of that out initially.

The first day of rookie minicamp was much more about smiles and excitement and just playing the game than it was playing a specific position.

"It was awesome," Smith beamed. "It was a good day today just being on the Steelers' field and being able to run around again."