Chuck Smith already had many players who were disciples of his teaching long before he became the Ravens' new outside linebackers coach.
Smith had been a private coach in the Atlanta area since 2001, and his lengthy list of former clients included future Hall of Famers Von Miller and Aaron Donald. NFL pass rushers have flocked to see Smith every offseason for years, and his success earned him the nickname "Dr. Rush."
"I always knew in the early 90s that I wanted to train pass rushers because there was no one really doing it," Smith said. "It wasn't really normal back then. People kind of looked like, 'Man, that's kind of weird,' I wasn't welcomed because it was a different culture with coaches. There weren't even iPhones, I was passing out flyers."
Now Smith's career has taken another turn. Hired by the Ravens in March, he's being entrusted to bring out the best in an outside linebacker group that includes Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo, two young first-round talents who are already sold on Dr. Rush.
"He's a guru," Ojabo said. "He's just bringing [out] the best side of us, and he brings a lot of energy. [He] lets us be ourselves, lets us kind of dance off the ball. I'm really excited just to see how our development comes."
During his playing days, Smith spent eight of his nine NFL seasons with the Falcons and finished with 58.5 career sacks, including a career-high 12 sacks in 1997. With his NFL pedigree and his success working with former Pro Bowlers such as Osi Umenyiora and Carlos Dunlap, Smith brings credibility that helps players buy in.
"He's giving us insight that a lot of guys, like me in particular, haven't had, because a lot of my coaches, they're great coaches, but they haven't really played the position," Oweh said. "He's played the position. He's trained a lot of guys that played the position at a high level. I'm getting little tidbits that I wouldn't have necessarily gotten."
Smith first met Head Coach John Harbaugh in 2008 while working as a training camp consultant as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship. That relationship has helped accelerate Smith's comfort level since taking the job.
"The transition has been easy because I know a lot of people here," Smith said. "I did the Bill Walsh minority coaching program, got my start here coach Harbaugh's first year. I was a lot younger. He was a lot younger. Everybody here, even guys on the staff - there are guys here who I trained. [General Manager] Eric [DeCosta], [Owner] Mr. [Steve] Bisciotti, I've known a lot of these people for a long, long, long time. If there was a perfect place for me to come and really kickoff my first year again, it was the Baltimore Ravens."
Smith loves what he has seen in OTAs from both Ojabo and Oweh. Fully recovered from the Achilles injury he suffered at his Michigan Pro Day in 2022, Ojabo has flashed into the backfield regularly during 11-on-11 reps.
"He's everything I thought he was when he was at Michigan," Smith said. "He's quick. He's confident. He's twitchy. He has a high pass rush IQ, and he has mastered a lot of different moves, and they're learning how to do it. We're constantly talking every second, every minute, on text, on threads. He's got that dawg mindset. Dude is ready and he's going to have an impact."
Smith wants each of the Ravens' pass rushers to develop signature moves they can depend on to put pressure on quarterbacks.
"When you see Odafe, you're going to know his signature pass rush move," Smith said. "We're teaching them to do high performance moves, but most importantly, how to fix them when flaws come about. That's where I come in.
"It's not just Odafe, it's Ojabo, it's Jeremiah Moon, it's Tavius Robinson. All of these guys are working for a common cause, and ultimately, to be the best team, [the best] defense we can be. The big prize is try to win a Super Bowl, and pass rush, for us to get there, that's going to have to be a part of it."