RENTON, Wash. -- Malcolm Smith has played for Pete Carroll long enough, first at Southern California and then with the Seattle Seahawks, that he knows nearly all the intricacies of the defensive system.
It's a good thing he has that kind of background and understanding. His flexibility and knowledge is one of the biggest he has been able to find a spot on the Seahawks' roster since being drafted in the seventh round in 2011.
"Our principles are pretty much the same as far as coverage. Just the experience, you know. I've been taking practice reps since I was in college for some of these defenses," Smith said Wednesday. "It's good to have and it will help me stepping in."
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Smith's versatility is being put to test again. For the second time this season, Smith is being called upon to fill in for an absent starter. Earlier, he was Seattle's starter at strongside linebacker when Bruce Irvin was serving a four-game suspension. Now he's being asked to start at weakside linebacker with K.J. Wright out at least a month with a fracture in his right foot suffered early in the Seahawks loss last Sunday in San Francisco.
This latest test for Smith started when he immediately jumped in for Wright and will continue over the final three weeks of the regular season, beginning Sunday at the New York Giants. Seattle needs two wins in its final three games to wrap up the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
On Wednesday, the Seahawks weren't seeing the drawbacks of losing to the 49ers and failing to wrap up the division title. Instead, they were talking about it being a wake up that they aren't infallible despite having won seven straight before the loss.
"You go on a good win streak you might let some things slip. Just get back to the details, focusing on our jobs and that's it," Smith said.
Wright underwent surgery on Wednesday in North Carolina to stabilize the fracture in his foot. The injury is expected to take four-to-six weeks to heal and recover, although there was no update on the success of the surgery when Carroll met with the media on Wednesday.
Smith at least gives Seattle a solid backup plan that likely would be starting if he was playing for another team in the league.
"Whenever we've called on him for the highlighted playing time, he's always played well. He's given us play at two linebacker spots and in nickel, he's been a core special-teams guy throughout," Carroll said. "I don't know if he's exceeded expectations of a seventh-round pick but we've seen him rise up and be a crucial member of our football team."
Smith earned his way onto the roster his first season because of his play on special teams. By his second season in 2012, Smith was getting on the field consistently and started three games when Leroy Hill was out with injuries. That experience he got made Seattle confident Smith could step in at an unnatural position when Irvin was sidelined to start the season by suspension.
Smith started three of those first four games when Irvin was out, missing one due to a hamstring injury. Smith flipped to the other side of the defensive alignment and started against Tennessee and Arizona at midseason when Wright moved inside to play for injured starter Bobby Wagner. Smith had a career-high eight tackles and the second sack of his career in the Seahawks win at Arizona on Oct. 17. He has been used sparingly in the weeks since, but knows his action and production is about to pick up significantly.
Smith said his preference is to play at the weakside linebacker because it allows him to be off the ball and move with the play minus the traffic and bigger bodies the strongside linebacker has to face.
"Just the ability to flow to the ball a little bit faster and being at (strongside), you get a chance to run but you've got to deal with some big guys first," Smith said. "I get use to my advantage of speed a little bit more at the (weakside) position."
Notes: Seattle placed SS Jeron Johnson (hamstring) on injured reserve and signed CB Perrish Cox on Wednesday. ... Seattle's lengthy injury report feature nine players who did not participate Wednesday: WR Percy Harvin (hip), TE Zach Miller (ribs), C Max Unger (pectoral), RB Marshawn Lynch (shoulder), CB Richard Sherman (foot), CB Brandon Browner (groin), LB Mike Morgan (knee), WR Doug Baldwin (neck), DE Chris Clemons (non-injury reason).