Smith Settling In

Posted Aug 22, 2011

Entering his third year in the NFL, Rams tackle Jason Smith has moved well beyond the expectations set for him by those outside of the team.

Smith says his full attention is dedicated not to meeting some sort of lofty expectations that are inherent with his draft status. Rather, Smith is aiming only to meet the goals he sets for himself and meet the needs of the team.

“It’s one of those deals where other people make a scenario up for you,” Smith said. “But for me, I just look at it the same; it’s football and I want to be the best I can be at it.”

There have been plenty of ups and downs in Smith’s relatively short career but many believe that the third year is the time for a player to make his move.

In this training camp, the coaching staff has been pleased with Smith’s progress, especially considering that though his media guide bio says he’s in his third year, he’s really only working with about a year and a half of experience.

It’s helped that Smith has been able to settle in at the right tackle spot where he’s been tasked with facing one of the league’s emerging pass rushers in Chris Long every day in practice.

Long has been one of the Rams’ best players in camp according to coach Steve Spagnuolo and he’s pushed Smith to improve his pass protection.

“You are playing a position and playing a game and the more you are doing it, the more comfortable you are getting, the more patience you are gaining, the more ability you have to do your job,” Smith said. “And I am going against Chris Long every day. This guy is a workhorse and I feel like I have become a better tackle going against him and understanding what I’m doing.”

Taken with the second overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Smith was expected to step right in and dominate as a left tackle. That’s the job most view as commensurate with being selected that high and made even more difficult for Smith by those expecting him to be the next Orlando Pace.

Smith’s rookie season was derailed by injuries, though, including an early season knee injury and a concussion that ended his season. All told, he played just eight games with five starts and just when it appeared he was settling in, he suffered the concussion.

“Obviously I have had some stumbling blocks in my career with a couple of injuries here and there but I trained and feel like I had a great offseason,” Smith said. “I am sound in my faith in God and I don’t see myself wavering from anything I know to do.”

Finally able to get on the field and stay there in 2010, Smith made strides as he settled in on the right side with then-rookie Rodger Saffold on the left.

In 15 games (he missed one with a concussion issue), Smith allowed four sacks according to STATSPASS as the Rams trimmed their total sacks allowed by 10 as quarterback Sam Bradford was dropped 34 times.

From the start, it was said Smith would need some work in pass protection, which is part of the reason that he was moved to the right side in the first place. That progress became more apparent as last season went on.

“Two years into it now playing right tackle and that’s where my team needs me and wants me,” Smith said. “That’s where I am expected to play. It’s awesome.”

When Smith entered the league, he had a reputation for being a nasty run blocker capable of opening big holes. But Smith’s adjustment has taken some time and though he’s proved to be adept as a run blocker at times, he says he’d like to be more consistent.

The addition of Harvey Dahl at right guard should help in that area. Dahl is known for his nasty disposition on the field and Smith says he can’t help but feel that attitude is infectious and going to help him be the hard-charging run blocker everyone though he could be.

“Getting an opportunity to play to the right of Jason Brown and Harvey Dahl they brought in has been big,” Smith said. “Harvey Dahl is a mauler and I really enjoy playing beside him.”

Smith and his linemates cleared holes in the preseason opener against Indianapolis but took a step back against Tennessee last week. Spagnuolo says Smith has been hard on himself in evaluations and believes that will drive him to continue to get better.

“I think he is improving,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s just because I think he’s at the point where he expects a lot of himself. But I think he is doing a solid job over there at right tackle.”

Smith says the change in offensive coordinators to Josh McDaniels hasn’t required him to do too much different though it’s clear that the ability to pass block longer is going to be necessary in certain down field passing situations.

There’s nothing Smith is ignoring in his daily work to make improvements to his game, including staying in the new playbook and studying film more vigorously.

“I know what to do, where to go, the offense is different but the coaches make it real simple and make it to where you can play fast,” Smith said. “For me as an individual, I just want to be sound and be a productive football player and do my part. I want to be effective in the pass game and a good run blocker.”