Bucs' Smith gets warm reception in return to Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Daryl Smith strolled around Jacksonville's practice fields Wednesday without a helmet or shoulder pads.

It was probably a good thing he got the day off.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker spent most of the joint practice with the Jaguars chatting and laughing with former teammates and coaches.

''I think he had so many tackles on those fields that his tackle card had been punched,'' Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.

Indeed, Smith spent the first nine years of his NFL career in Jacksonville and left as the franchise's all-time leader in tackles, with 1,089. After missing 14 games in 2012 because of a groin injury, new Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell decided not to re-sign Smith even though he wanted to end his career in Jacksonville.

So Smith ended up in Baltimore, where he started every game the last three seasons (2013-15) and recorded 372 tackles and five interceptions. He landed in Tampa Bay for his 13th season and is slated to start at strong-side linebacker.

''You come into the league and you kind of have something in your head,'' said Smith, a second-round draft pick in 2004. ''For me, it was 10 years at first. And then once you reach a goal, you set a new goal. It really has flown by. I'm still loving and enjoying the game. But I know you can't do it forever. I'm just trying to soak up everything you can.''

He had plenty of time Wednesday to soak up his first trip to Jacksonville in nearly 4 1/2 years.

He hugged former teammate Paul Posluszny, visited with Jaguars strength and conditioning coordinator Tom Myslinski, had a lengthy conversation with former teammate and current Jaguars scout Greg Jones and even spoke with Jaguars coach Gus Bradley during a break. Smith also was popular with autograph-seeking fans after practice.

''One of the best guys and one of the best football players I've ever been around,'' Posluszny said. ''I wish I could have played with him more because you love to be around those type of guys.''

Smith wasn't the only one making a return to his former stomping grounds.

The Jaguars drafted two current Bucs: punter Bryan Anger in 2012 and running back Storm Johnson in 2014. Tampa Bay's coaches have even more ties to Jacksonville. Koetter was the Jaguars' offensive coordinator for five years (2007-11). Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken spent four years (2007-10) in Jacksonville. Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith held the same position in Jacksonville for five years (2003-07).

Throw in linebackers coach Mark Duffner (2006-13 in Jacksonville), special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor (2008-11) and assistant defensive line coach Paul Spicer (2000-08 in Jacksonville as a player), and Tampa Bay's coaching staff shouldn't have had problems getting around Jacksonville.

Koetter still has a home in the area.

''I'd be glad to sell it,'' Koetter said.

Daryl Smith has no regrets about his near decade with the Jags. He was a defensive mainstay for Jacksonville, teaming with fellow linebacker Mike Peterson and giving the Jaguars one of the best tandems in the league. Had it not been for that groin injury that cost him all but the final two games of the 2012 season, he might be finishing his career in Jacksonville.

''Things always work out the way they're supposed to,'' Smith said. ''I didn't want to leave in the first place, but at the same time, I guess it had to happen. I learned a lot since I've been gone and they've been getting better and better every year. That's just the way it's supposed to be.

''I can't never look back and say I wish this didn't happen or whatever. The past is the past. You just learn from it and you move on. All the memories and friendships that I have here, that's forever.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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