Braden Smith (above) started 11 games at right guard this season and one at right tackle.
“The energy throughout the year has been consistent and good and it has been good through the first two days,” the offensive guard said after Tuesday’s practice, the first of six days of workouts for the Tigers before they take a break for the Christmas holiday.
The Tigers returned to practice on Monday after being off for 16 days since the end of the regular season. “During that time we were able to refresh our minds and body,” Smith said. “Now we are ready to focus on the task on hand.”
The task at hand is a Dec. 30th matchup vs. Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. Smith said he and his teammates have respect for their high-scoring postseason opponent.
“They definitely have a good offense, especially with their quarterback,” he said. “They are a nine-win team so we are going to have to bring it. We have seen a little bit of film on them. They are definitely a good team. They do a lot of movement (on defense) and their players play hard.”
Smith earned second team All-SEC honors on the AP postseason all-league team after making the move from tackle to right guard this season. “I definitely feel more comfortable,” he said of his position now that he has a full season of starts there.
He said that there is a “huge difference” for him now that his comfort level is up at the position. “You definitely get a better feel for the game going throughout the year,” he said. “I feel like I was getting better, but I still need to make a lot of improvements.
With No. 1 center Austin Golson and No. 1 right tackle Avery Young back from injuries and practicing again, Smith noted that is a plus for the offensive line with the Tigers “getting everyone back together and meshing for this game.”
The sophomore noted the attention has been divided between the veterans and the backups. “Right now we are working on basics for the first three days and helping out the young guys,” he said.
“It is definitely good work for them getting in the weight room and getting stronger,” he said of the 2015 offensive line signees who are redshirting. “When they worked scout team all year they had to go against our number ones all the time, which really helped them out. You can definitely tell the difference in how they are playing right now. They are all trying to make a name for themselves right now and get ready for next season trying to compete for jobs.”
One of those freshmen, Mike Horton, is a player who offensive line coach J.B. Grimes had prepared to play in games if needed, but the coaches held him out so he will be a redshirt freshman in 2016.
“Throughout the whole year he has been getting better on everything like his pass sets and where his hands need to be,” Smith points out. “He has kept with it the whole time. He has never gotten down about anything, which I am really proud of him about. He has been doing really good.”
With the possibility that redshirt junior starting tackles Avery Young and Shon Coleman could enter the NFL Draft in 2016, Horton is a player who could be in the mix for a starting spot in 2016. “He will definitely be able to come in and compete for a job,” Smith predicted.
The sophomore guard added that Horton isn’t alone in making progress. “All across the whole line, really, the whole freshman class that came in--Mike Horton, Kaleb Kim, all of them have been doing great.”
After a disappointing season the question for a 6-6 football team is how motivated it will be to win its bowl game. “We will definitely be ready,” Smith said. “We want to get out there and put everything together and send the seniors out on a good note with a win. That is definitely important going into next year.”
He noted that the Tigers can’t do anything about what happened during the regular season. “We can’t look back on the past. We just have to focus in on the now.”