DE Za’Darius Smith (5.24.23)

What was your reaction when you got the news you were getting traded? 

I was excited. You know, I get a chance to play in a 4-3 system and that’s something that I never played in while I was in the league. I was happy, man, and knowing that I get a chance to go be with Dalvin Thomlinson again and get a chance to be with Myles, man, it’s great feeling.


You spent time playing outside linebacker, but you’re big enough to play end. Do you think it’s going to be a natural transition for you?

Yeah, it’ll be natural, because I played it in college and I played it in junior college and my first year of high school. That was my first time playing football, was a 4-3 end. I’m used to it, but it’s been eight years, so trying to learn the new techniques and get back to what I used to do. Hand in the dirt.


Have you talked to Myles Garrett yet and how much are you looking forward to playing on the same line? 

Well, I can’t wait. I did get a chance to talk to him once I did get the news. I think they NFL posted it and he sent me a text message telling me that he can’t wait to get going and hopefully we could be the best duo in the league. I was telling him, man, like the D-line, we got to come up with a name for the room. So he’s like, ‘I’m going to get some shirts. We’re going to make it big.’ So that chemistry already, I could tell is going to be great this year.


How do you anticipate your tandem with Myles Garrett being different than with Preston Smith?

I don’t know. I feel like once he gets here, I’ll be able to get a feel for him. They say he don’t talk much. Kind of shy a little bit, but we are going to get him to open up, man. We’re going to have a good time while I’m here, for sure.


Do you have a name for the room yet, then? 

No, we don’t.


Do you come in sort of feeling like in some ways, you know, that he’s kind of the man here, the alpha dog here? Or do you come in feeling like, ‘Hey, I’m a three time pro bowler’?

I don’t even think about that. I just play my role as a player. And when you go into a team, different team, you can’t focus on that stuff. You got to be all about the team and helping the team win.


What’s it going to be like going against the Ravens twice a year? 

It’s going to be fun. I know a small situation happened last year where I was supposed to go back, but it didn’t work out. But now that I get a chance to face them, man, it’s going to be fun. I actually work out with a couple of guys in Orlando, ‘Gus The Bus.’ I’ve been telling him I’m going to catch him. I’m going to have to pop him one or two times. It’s all fun and games, because we’re still friends, man. Just can’t wait. See John Harbaugh. See Lamar. It’s going to be fun this year.


So what is the secret to containing Lamar? 

Everybody’s got to be in their gap. Everybody’s got to know their assignment, because if he gets loose, we all know what could happen. So just when that time gets here, we’ll be able to prepare the right way and hopefully contain him.


Are you glad to be back in the AFC North? 

Sort of. Kind of. Like I was telling you, I’ve been in the 3-4 system for the last eight years, so getting a chance to put my hand back in the dirt and be a natural 4-3 end is going to be big for me.


Why didn’t it work out in Baltimore last year?

Baltimore, I don’t know, man. It was something where somebody leaked something and said that I agreed to the deal, but I never did. And a lot of Baltimore Ravens fans are upset about that. Like when I said when I get ready to go back, it’s going to be pretty fun because a lot of people may be booing and a lot of people may be happy for me at the same time. So it’s all fun and games at the end of the day.


What did you know about Jim Schwartz? 

Great DC. I got a chance to talk with him when I first came in and he was telling me all the things that he wanted me to do. He was like, ‘Man, we just need you to get off the ball. We know that you haven’t had that in the last eight years.’ And if I had the opportunity, I probably would have had 100 sacks by now. I’m just happy to be here, man. Happy to be with him, happy to be with the coaching staff, man. This is a great organization. Can’t wait.


How much higher do you think your ceiling can get? 

I like it. I like the question. I feel like it’ll be great, because like I said, when I first started playing football, I was in a 4-3 system and I was always taught to just go get the quarterback, affect them. In this situation, being here now, I get the opportunity to do that. So I just can’t wait to get going, man, and hopefully I have double digit sacks again this year, for sure.


How much impact do you think you can have on a defense, that’s kind of in reconstruction, on a team that really has high expectations? 

I say by doing a little things, team bonding. We were just talking in the D-line room today and I was telling the guys, ‘let’s go out to eat tonight.’ Doing little things like that, man, to bring guys together and closer and learning one another help us a lot. As far as in the D-line and as far as the football team.


Do you have Defensive Player of the Year aspirations? Is that on your bucket list?

I feel like it is, but my main goal right now is get a ring. That’s something that I never had experienced. So that’s the number one goal, is help this team win a Super Bowl. Well, first of all, win the division. Sorry. And then go on and play in the Super Bowl. But after that, hopefully I can’t get a Defensive Player of the Year. I think they were close to saying something last year about it, but as we all know, I got hurt. I don’t focus on that. Self goals is something that’s going to come once you play part of the team. Once you do your job, basically.


You were off to such a great start last year. How frustrating was it to have a knee injury slow you down?

Yeah, it wasn’t frustrating. A lot of people didn’t know, in my contract, I had it to where I had to play every game to get my bonus. So certain situations, coaches were telling me give it all you can and then we’ll just rest you from there. So I wasn’t as effective as I was at the beginning of the season, but I’m all healthy now. Ready to go.


You’ve been on three teams that have won their division. 

Yes, sir.


That’s the first thing that came out of your mouth, winning the division? 

Yes, sir.


Why is that? 

Because that’s where it starts. I feel like if you set goals, you got to start from there. If you don’t win the division, it’s really not a possibility of going to Super Bowl. I’m not just going to say it like that, but it happened that way and that’s something that we need to focus on. A lot of guys don’t focus on that. They just talk about the Super Bowl. But the main goal is to win the division first, be on top and hopefully go to playoffs, get a bye and go from there.


How confident are you the Browns are getting the Za’Darius that had 13.5, 12 and 10 sacks?

Yeah, I just told you earlier I had a chance to rest. I couldn’t rest last year, because every game I think I was making like $200,000 just to dress up. So you would dress up too, right? [laughter] Exactly. So now what’s different for me? I had a chance to rest my knee, get some rehab and actually train with my trainer in Orlando. I’ve been out here working and I haven’t felt nothing. So I feel perfectly fine.


The jump when you got to Green Bay, was it just a change of scenery? Was it the system? 

The bonding of the team. Like I was telling you about, getting to know one another. This guy may be weak at doing this and you could help him, teach him something that can basically help his game grow. And for me, I had a chance to do that with Preston and Rashan Gary. So they always couldn’t focus on me. They had to focus on them, too. And here, we have the same thing with guys like Myles and we got a bunch of young guys coming up, man. D.T. now here. So it’s going to be hard to just pick one guy, you know what I’m saying, to go to. You’re going to leave the other two and other three guys open.


Here with Dalvin and coming here at the same time. What’s it like playing next to him? 

It’s fun. He actually went to Alabama and I’m actually from Alabama, so we got a little chemistry from back home. But just all in all, man, Dalvin is a great guy. Likes to draw, man. He’s creative and a family man. So just being around good people like that also helped me become a great guy. So that’s one of the main reasons.


What can you bring as far as intangibles?

I feel like the leadership and just keep harping on it. Just keep saying and keep saying it because once you do that, it can happen. Speaking into existence and I’m big on that. Like I said, just doing a little things. Staying after practice, getting some extra reps. Before I was talking to some of the guys about fixing their feet, because some can get reached and they’ll get cut off. I could tell them like, ‘look in the backfield, you can see the near gun and far gun sets.’ Focus on those type of things to help your game. So I feel like doing the little things like that will help us go a long way as football team.


I know you’ve only been here for a minute, but this is the first practice since Jim Brown has passed and I just wondered if you had any reflections on him as a player or a person?

Man, growing up, I got a chance to watch him and I also saw the call where he did with Myles, man, and that was special. But man, you got to always respect the OGs in the game and he was one of the greats that I always looked up to. A lot of other guys, too. He’s not going anywhere, but like guys like Ray, those are great guys that are going to leave a legacy, man. And that’s something that he did for us here in Cleveland.


When you talk about having guys like Myles and Obo at the end position, I know you’ve had some success rushing from the inside. Do you enjoy doing that? Is that something you could see yourself doing here, too? 

You know what? I don’t want to answer that question, because I may give something out to other teams. But no, man, I like playing every position. You can really put me anywhere. I’m versatile. Play zero, play three, play the end, play linebacker some, too. It’s all in all, man, it’s going to be a fun year. I just can’t wait. I answered that the best way.


Why did you want to re-do your contract? 

In Minnesota? Yeah. For one, it wasn’t set up right. Going through Green Bay my last year, I had the injury and a lot of teams started to say this and that about Z, but it wasn’t about that. I’m always a team guy. You can call any player from any facility that I’ve been in and ask them about who Z really is. But a lot of people make stories up and it just didn’t work out. I hated that. Wish I could have stayed and been a Smith Bro with Preston, but just happy to be here now, man, and get a new fresh start and continue my career here.


So when you say it wasn’t set up right, was it money? 

It was the guaranteed part. The first year was only guaranteed. So, I mean, now I’m basically in the same situation, but it’s okay now, because I can get a chance to go in the free agency next year.


When you come into this and you’re seeing there’s some raw talent and you don’t know the feeling for some of these guys. How does that make you feel, entering a team with that kind of talent potential?

Being the older guy, you know, I’m the vet now, so I can get a chance to help those younger guys. I have been around a lot of great leaders, like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle. So I know a couple of things that can help us get better. Like he said earlier, every team that I’ve been on, we won the division. It wasn’t for no reason. Just helping them grow as players and just teaching them the game. The little things about playing football.


What motivates you most now at this stage of your career where you’re at? 

Going into year nine? Not having a ring. Family. Got to take care of the family. And just leaving a legacy, man. Doing what I’m doing for the young guys, hopefully they can do it when they get a little bit older and tell them, like, ‘Hey, Z was the guy who helped me.’ I would love that. But just leaving my legacy here, man. And for my kids, when they grow up, they can be like, ‘Oh. You’re Za’Darius Smith’s son.’ So little things like that.


Just watching you and photos and little video clips and stuff like that. Since the day that you signed here, you look really happy. I mean, you just look really happy. 

Fresh start.


Can you sort of describe why are you so happy right now? 

Because it’s the beginning of something special. That’s a great answer.



# # #


***Visit the Browns Media Center for materials provided by the Browns communications department, including media schedules, press releases, quotes, photos, media guides, rosters, depth charts and more.***