Veteran Will Smith settles in with Pats

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It is nearly impossible to gauge the play of a defensive lineman in a spring minicamp practice without pads because there is no contact. As much as can be judged was seen at one point Wednesday when veteran Will Smith rushed off the left edge, beat rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming with a move to the inside, and created pressure during a passing drill.

If things go according to plans for the New England Patriots and Smith, we’ll be seeing a lot more of that in 2014.

Time will tell if that’s the way it unfolds, but Smith sounded optimistic Wednesday when discussing his return from a torn ACL that sidelined him for the entire 2013 season with the Saints. He’s been a limited participant in practice, just recently stepping into some 11-on-11 work, a sign of his progress in rehabilitation as he said he feels 100 percent.

“I'm excited. I've played football the last 15, 16 years. Last year was a little tough not being able to be out there and play because I was hurt, but it’s exciting to be back in OTAs and now in minicamp, being a part of stuff,” said Smith, who spent his entire career with the Saints (2004-2013) before he was released this offseason and chose the Patriots over other suitors.

Smith said everything has been what he expected in New England, and the adjustment has been a good one. An observer noted one change -- he’s been lining up on the left side in recent practices after spending most of his career playing on the right side in New Orleans.

“It’s not that much of a difference. The last couple of years I’ve been bouncing back and forth. My preference is to play on the right, but if I’m needed on the left I’m able to play both sides,” he said.

The 6-foot-3, 282-pound Smith projects to a sub-package role in New England. When the Patriots reduce end Chandler Jones to an interior position, Smith is a candidate to come on as a nickel rusher at either end spot.

Smith, who isn’t going into 2014 with the mindset that it will be the final year of his career, said his focus now is on getting in football shape, which can’t happen until training camp. He likes the potential of the Patriots’ defensive line.

“I think it can be awesome,” he said.