“This week, they covered up Mike, so it was my time to shine,” Smith told reporters after the game, via the Saints’ official website.
But even the rookie receiver, who entered Week 11 with 12 catches on the season, didn’t anticipate having that big of an impact.
“Coming in, I expected to catch one or two balls, but 10 catches?” Smith said. “No, I didn’t expect that, but as the game goes on, you got to do what you got to do.”
Smith’s performance was timely when considering the Saints brought in veteran wide receivers Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall in the past two weeks to bolster the No. 2 receiver spot opposite of Thomas.
Bryant, however, suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon a day after signing, and Marshall was brought aboard to replace Bryant. Smith understood the additions meant competition for playing time, but he kept faith in his ability to make plays.
“You got to know your job is at risk because if you mess up, you got a veteran right there trying to take your job,” Smith said. “But I know if I do what I got to do week in and week out, I’m at a good place.”
Still, the presence of Bryant and Marshall didn’t mean there wouldn’t be mentorship, and Smith enjoyed the opportunity to learn from the two former Pro Bowlers.
“He came in coaching me, telling me how to beat defenders on routes, and how to attack their leverage and technique,” Smith said of Bryant. “Then, Brandon Marshall, he talked to me the other day. He just built more confidence in myself. He said, ‘You’re here for a reason. You’re a great receiver. I watched you in college.’ That means a lot coming from people who have been in the league years, veterans who know what they’re doing and had great years. It just means a lot.”
Smith clearly took to heart whatever he absorbed from Bryant and Marshall, who was inactive Sunday, en route to a breakout game.
The rookie receiver flashed his speed on a 38-yard catch down the field and displayed toughness to make tough catches in traffic, including his 15-yard touchdown grab between two defenders at the goal line.
Whether the Saints stick with Smith as the No. 2 receiver opposite of Thomas the rest of the way once Marshall is up to speed remains to be seen. But Smith showed Sunday perhaps the team didn’t need to bring in a veteran wide receiver to address the spot, especially when considering second-year pro Austin Carr and rookie Keith Kirkwood also contributed in the passing game against the Eagles.
For now, however, Smith proved he could be an answer whenever teams attempt to take away Thomas, who was more than happy to shower praise on his teammate.
“I am real proud of him,” Thomas said of Smith. “He came out there and stepped up and made some crucial catches. He did his job and he helped this offense.”