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Raider Top Draft Pick Smith Is Sidelined by Knee Injury

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Defensive end Anthony Smith, the Raiders’ first-round draft choice, might be lost for the season after injuring his knee, Coach Art Shell said Thursday.

Smith tore the medial collateral ligament and sustained a cartilage tear in his right knee during practice Wednesday and is scheduled to undergo surgery today at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

While the extent of the damage won’t be known until the operation has been completed, the Raiders fear Smith will be sidelined for a minimum of three months, which means that he might be able to return in December or early January for the playoffs. The Raiders haven’t reached the playoffs since 1985.

The injury occurred while Smith was engaged with a blocker. A teammate fell behind him, and he was pushed back over the top of the player on the ground.

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“It was a freak thing,” Shell said. “It was devastating. You look at it on film and it’s a fluke. Somebody lost their balance and hit him on the side of the leg. It seems so unfair.

“But that’s the nature of this game. Sometimes you go real hard and things don’t happen, and you go easy and things still happen. It doesn’t matter.”

Smith said he doesn’t remember how he was hurt.

“I really don’t know what happened,” Smith said from the hospital. “I haven’t seen it on film. I want to see it on film to see what happened.”

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Does Smith think he’ll be able to play this season?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t even talked to the doctor about that yet. I’m injured now and all I can do is rest and get better. Time will only tell.

“I’m not really devastated. The best thing about life is that there’s always another day, and the best thing about football is that there’s always another Saturday. Guys have been injured and they’ve been out on the field again. Devastation comes when you’re not able to do what you love to do. I’m able to come back, so I’m not devastated.”

His teammates lamented the injury to Smith.

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“It’s always bad to lose a No. 1 pick that has as much potential as he does,” linebacker Greg Townsend said. “I think he would have been an impact player.

Nose guard Bob Golic sympathized with Smith.

“I went through the same thing he’s going through now as a young guy coming into the league,” Golic said. “I ended up in injured reserve my first year. I remember it was kind of a rough time because even though your friends are there and they’re talking you through it, it’s still a difficult thing to deal with. “It’s a big blow because the defensive line was coming together. Having a young guy with that enthusiasm, talent and speed is something that we’ll miss.”

The 11th player selected in the 1990 NFL draft, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Smith played three seasons at Alabama before transfering to Arizona, where he earned All-Pacific 10 honors last season. Smith made 71 tackles with five sacks and six pass deflections in 1989.

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As a backup to Scott Davis at left defensive end, Smith had one sack during the exhibition season.

“Defensive line is a position where we have a number of good players, and, unfortunately, we just have one less good player,” said position coach Bill Urbanik. “I’m sure we’ll do fine this year even though we don’t have Anthony Smith.”

Raider Notes

Coach Art Shell said the Raiders will probably bring back defensive tackle David Caldwell, cut earlier this week, to replace Anthony Smith. If Smith is placed on the injured reserve list before Monday’s cut to 47, he won’t be able to play this season. . . . Quarterback Steve Beuerlein said the Raiders have lowered their offer to him, a negotiating tactic the club used to force fullback Steve Smith to end his holdout. The Raiders’ initial offer to Beuerlein, who earned $140,000 last season, was a three-year deal reportedly worth an average of $500,000 a season.

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