Only this time, Smith wasn't watching. For the first time ever he stepped into position as the first-team nose tackle.
The significance of the event wasn't lost on ASU head coach Todd Graham. Smith missed last season following surgery to remove bone spurs from his hip.
To see what he's gone through, to see two years of injury with that hip, to see him coming off that football like that, being physical the way he is," Graham said. "Obviously he's still got a lot to learn. But to see him, we've looked the last few days, he's moved all the way up to the starting rotation. Really happy for him."
A 6-foot-6, 290-pounder out of New Orleans, size has never been an issue for Smith. But in his first two years in Tempe, Smith could never really show what he could do on the field because he lacked the hip flexion to bend into a proper 3-point stance. It prevented him from uncoiling with power; stopped him from playing with the necessary pad level win the leverage battle inside.
That problem hasn't been completely resolved, as Smith will have to fully address what became a strength deficiency in the joint and surrounding muscles over the course of several years. But his progress since even the spring is clearly evident. Saturday, Smith had the best set-up posture and lowest pad level getting off the snap of the ball that he's ever showed in Tempe.
"I'm really proud of Corey because he's faced an awful lot of adversity," Graham said. "Man, you look out there on that d-line, there's a whole lot of 6-foot-6, 300-plus pounders that can run and that are really, really physical. So we like that.
Corey, what a great story that is right there. I mean, to go through two years. He's been here two years waiting for this opportunity. Am I surprised? Totally. Because you just don't know. You have no idea how he's going to respond and all that. I think the trainers and strength staff did a remarkable job with him as well because his flexibility, how he rehabbed that was pretty phenomenal. He's physical now, very physical."
Graham bullish on ASU potential
Unsurprisingly, Graham continued to lob praise at his 2015 team during the program's Media Day Saturday. He's repeatedly and without equivocation expressed the opinion that this is the best and most talented team he's coached in his career.
"This is a really, really special group of young men," Graham said in his opening remarks. "Our values that we tried to instill of character, smart, discipline, tough. This has been the most disciplined team, most physical team, fastest team that we've had. It's been an awesome few days of camp so far. Lots of positive things.
"Very highly competitive. (Defensive line) coach (Jackie) Shipp is not a guy to pass down a lot of compliments. After practice today, he walked over to me and he said, 'Coach, that was the most impressive speed, physicality, and finished practice we've had since we've been here.' So that's something we're excited about."
"Well, we got a special group," Graham said of the five Tillman jersey wearers. "I tell you, Antonio, I told him today that he looks completely different. He's pretty good. He has had an unbelievable camp."