There's no truth to the rumor that Arkansas sophomore-to-be Chris Smith has made the move from defensive end to tailback.
It just seemed like that on Saturday because he spent so much time in the backfield.
Smith (6-2, 252) was credited with two sacks, likely would have had two more if the quarterbacks weren't off limits and basically spent his day ripping into the pocket and harassing the signal callers.
"I'm just blessed to make it in the backfield," Smith said. "I have been just working on my pass rush on Tuesday and Wednesday and Friday so I can bring it on Saturday. I just want to get there, make the play and help my team. I can't wait until I can actually unload on somebody."
A former North Carolina high school standout, Smith has always had the burst of speed off the edge that is so necessary to play the spot in the SEC.
He was not ready for the run game last season, which limited his playing time. But strength coach Jason Veltkamp took care of that in the off-season.
"I came in at around 232 and I am up to 252 now," Smith said. "Having 20 pounds helps a lot and I have even gotten faster while putting on that weight. That is the surprising thing to me. But Coach Veltkamp knows what he is doing in that weight room."
Smith looks far more ready to play, a testament to taking coaching from defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell.
"Coach Caldwell is just a great coach," Smith said. "He stays on me really hard and I am just blessed to have a coach like him. He is getting me better every day."
Razorback defensive coordinator Willy Robinson has been pleased with Smith's performance in the first 11 spring practices.
"Chris has really taken to what Coach Caldwell is teaching him and he has bought into that," Robinson said. "He is executing extremely well. He has extremely great get-off and now he has the ability to read on his second step. So it is starting to become very easy for him and he has been very productive."
Smith has been taken under the wings of the older defensive ends.
"Jake Bequette, Tenarius Wright and Colton Nash are also just helping me get better also," Smith said. "I am just trying to follow in their footsteps."
Smith is very thankful for the help from the Razorback veterans.
"Back in the day, the older guys wouldn't tell you stuff so you wouldn't take their spot," Smith said. "But these guys – and Damario Ambrose also helped me – they know we all need to be at our best and ready to play so they help me with everything."
Like most young players, Smith – who had three tackles while playing in six games as a true freshman - has found out that getting prepared to play starts way before you step on the field.
"My first year I was kind of iffy when it comes to the plays," Smith said. "I really wasn't just making plays, I was thinking too much. Now I know the playbook and because I am more familiar with the playbook, now I just go and play ball."
He has definitely improved his focus – something stressed by Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino.
"Everything I do, I just take it like a game day," Smith said. "That's how we need to attack practice, walk through – anything we do. We need to get just our minds right like Coach P is always talking about."
As Arkansas heads into its last week of spring drills, Smith is looking forward to the season opener and a defenseless quarterback to hone in on.
"Last year I didn't get as much playing time as a I wanted to and there was a debate on whether I should have redshirted or not," Smith said. "But I loved watching Jake and them getting sacks and I got excited. Now I want to get some of my own and – like I said – just follow in their footsteps."
Smith had an interception in his hands last season and would have had a clear path to a score if he had held on.
He's been thinking about that a lot.
"If that play comes this year, I won't be messing it up," Smith said. "I'll be catching the ball and taking it to the house. There will be a lot more opportunities for me this year and I can't wait to see what happens."
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