Smith Progressing Well
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
After almost every practice since the Rams made him the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, Jason Smith can be found out on the practice field doing two things.
First and foremost, Smith has made a habit of staying after practice to work with offensive line coaches Art Valero and Steve Loney on something he feels needed improvement from the just-completed workout.
When that is done, about 20 minutes later, Smith can be found hauling around the pads of his veteran teammates.
“It’s what I am but I am not doing it just to be doing it,” Smith said. “It’s something that I need to work on that day technically or physically. There’s always something to work on.”
Such is the life of a rookie in the NFL. And while those parts of it are normal, Smith’s approach to the game is anything but.
The Rams completed their final two a day practice of this year’s training camp on Tuesday afternoon. With that, the team is almost halfway through the preseason and Smith’s development process is in full swing.
From the moment he arrived in St. Louis, plenty of people have placed some weighty expectations on Smith but the coaching staff has ignored that and asked Smith to earn his position.
Until Tuesday, Smith had extremely limited repetitions with the first team offense as he has worked almost exclusively as the second-team right tackle behind Adam Goldberg.
Nothing has been handed to him and Smith has asked for nothing in return. Instead, Smith is lapping up every opportunity to learn the game from his veteran teammates.
Nary a player has been more helpful in that regard than Goldberg. Although Goldberg and Smith are technically competing for the job at right tackle, neither seems too concerned with beating out the other.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
“I take that as part of my role but I tell you what, he doesn’t need too many tips,” Goldberg said. “He’s going to be a really good football player and he’s a great person too, the kind of guy that you like to help out because he works hard, doesn’t take anything for granted, takes good notes, asks good questions. So he’s the type of young player that you want to help and want to see succeed.”
The modest Goldberg won’t take much credit for helping Smith learn the nuances of the NFL but Smith is quick to credit Goldberg for stepping into the mentor role.
“I feel that if Goldberg wasn’t here I would have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off,” Smith said. “What is the competition? The competition is Rams vs. whoever we play. It’s not amongst each other. Obviously we are going to make each other better by communicating things we see but if he wasn’t here, how far along would I be? I am really privileged to have Goldberg here because he’s a great guy and he’s a good veteran and he’s taken me under his wing and showed me what I need to do to be a professional.”
While Goldberg is able to give Smith pointers and help him in the meetings rooms, he isn’t the only one providing valuable advice to the rookie from Baylor.
Defensive end Leonard Little is regularly schooling Smith on the finer points of how to block both on the field and off.
In many instances during camp, whether in team drills or one on one pass rush work, Little has been matched up against Smith. With 81 career sacks and blinding quickness off the edge, Little is one of the most accomplished pass rushers in the NFL.
More often than not, Little has gotten the best of Smith but with every play and passing practice, Smith seems to be narrowing the gap.
“It’s made me understand the speed of the game fast,” Smith said. “I give Leonard a lot of credit for taking his time with me as well. He will just beat me and then he will explain to me how he beat me. He does that a lot. And he will let me know if I did a good job, a good job staying square with the hands and good patience. Or he will let me know if I have bad patience and he’ll tell me ‘Take your time, take your time.’”
In addition to the increased speed he has run into at the NFL level, Smith says the biggest adjustment for him has been learning the technique and the fundamentals that are required of every offensive lineman in the league.
During his final season or so at Baylor, Smith played in a two-point stance in the Bears’ spread offense. In other words, he was essentially standing up already which gave him a bit of a head start on his footwork against pass rushers.
Since the Rams don’t run that style of offense, Smith has had to get re-acclimated to the three-point stance and putting his hand on the ground before every play. That has made him a bit susceptible in pass blocking, particularly on inside moves.
Like everything else, though, Smith continues to improve with every practice and repetition.
“It’s like riding a bike,” Smith said. “Putting your hand in the dirt is how football started. Somewhere along the line I had my hand in the dirt somewhere. Just the last year or so in college I didn’t really have my hand in the dirt but it’s all the same. You play football with your hands, your feet and your eyes and your heart. As long as you got that down, whether your hand is in the dirt or not, you just play football.”
In his first live NFL action against the Jets last week, Smith said the film showed he did some things “exceptional” and some “not so exceptional.” If nothing else, it’s clear that Smith has plenty aggressiveness and gusto for run blocking.
“He is a guy that will bring a lot of youthful enthusiasm and a spark to the offensive line,” Loney said. “He’s been an excellent leader in the past. He’s a physical player, but the learning curve is going to speed up for him right now, so he is going to have to take his attributes and keep applying those to the things he is learning to make himself a real positive impact on this team.”
That learning curve could be accelerated even further in this week’s second preseason game against Atlanta.
Smith came into the game in the second quarter in New York last week but because of some swelling in the knee of left tackle Alex Barron, Smith might be pressed into action as a starter against the Falcons.
In Tuesday’s two practices, Smith stepped in with the first team at right tackle for an entire practice for the first time with Goldberg shifting over to the left. Coach Steve Spagnuolo says should Barron be unable to go, the Rams will take their time and figure out a plan but as it stands, Smith is preparing himself to play no matter the circumstance or set up.
“The great thing about playing the game of football is whether you are a starter or not, you are a starter,” Smith said. “The guy in front of you is one play away from never playing the game again. You are one play away from never playing the game again. So take every moment and cherish it because the NFL stands for not for long.”