State of the Hogs: Punkdom

John L. Smith knows the man behind the Alabama offense well enough to do some name calling -- all in the name of fun.

Just when you think you've heard it all from John L. Smith, there's one more juicy interview to add to the list.

The Arkansas special teams coordinator and outside linebacker coach is famous with the writers on the Razorback beat for his proclamation about 14 months ago that "special teams are about one play battles for large chunks of land."

He's the man who has filled notebooks through the years with stories of running with the bulls, climbing mountains and sky diving.

I went to Smith yesterday after practice to talk a little about the vast improvement the Hogs have made in special teams this year. Somehow the talk got to Alabama offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jim McElwain. When it did, I stopped writing when Smith started bashing McElwain.

"Just a punk," Smith said. "A real punk. When you start defining the word punk, you need his picture. He's the ultimate in punkdom.

"Really, I don't know of anyone I'd say is a bigger punk than McElwain. Huge punk. He's been a punk for a long time, too."

Wow. That's a fine way to describe the offensive mastermind of No. 1 Alabama. And it's not what you should do with the Crimson Tide coming to town for perhaps the biggest game in several decades.

But it's not as it seems. Smith might be the one coach on the planet qualified to call McElwain such a name. It might leave McElwain rolling on the floor when he reads it.

And the next time Smith and McElwain see each other, there will be a big hug. That's typical of Smith. It doesn't take long for him to know you well enough to throw out his arms and pull you tight. He knows McElwain more than that much.

McElwain coached with him three seasons at Louisville, then followed him to Michigan State where he was assistant head coach under Smith. Like Smith and UA head coach Bobby Petrino, his roots are out west. The Bama coordinator hails from Missoula, Mont., and coached five seasons at Montana State before coming to Louisville to work for Smith.

"I know him pretty good and I know how he coaches," Smith said. "Let me say this about their offense. They don't do much with it. It's this, this and that, then this."

This, this and that, then this had to be seen to understood. Smith showed a handoff right, handoff to the middle, handoff left and then followed it by raising up and pretending to throw a short pass after a handoff right, handoff middle and handoff left.

"What they do is so hard to stop because they have such good players and don't ask them to do so much," Smith said. "It's simple. They don't put their quarterback in danger, ever. They keep him out of harms way. The passes they throw are so easy and they don't make mistakes. But it comes down to just doing those things so well. If you don't ask your quarterback to do much, it's awful hard to pressure him into mistakes. He executes it perfectly.

"They have the players and they know how to run that offense. When you don't ask your players to do too much and then you execute it so well, it's very difficult to stop."

When the other team is easily scouted, but hard to stop, then it indeed comes down to players. Alabama has them, starting with running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, followed closely by wideout Julio Jones.

"And the guy calling the plays, he's a punk," Smith reminded. "A big-time punk."

Smith didn't mean it. The twinkle in his eyes said it all.

I've been around him enough now to know that he is careful "to pass out sugar." He's mentioned that several times when he talks about one of his outside linebackers, perhaps Jerico Nelson. You pass out too much sugar, it goes to your head.

That isn't the problem Smith fears with McElwain. Afterall, he put him in charge of special teams, receivers and gave him that assistant head coach title at two stops. McElwain coached some of the best receivers in the game at both stops under Smith.

"Hey, we still talk an awful lot, but just not this time of year," Smith said. "You don't talk to someone you are going to play during the season. Out of season, we talk all the time. I love him. But he's still a punk."

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