"At this point, I think my focus, hard work -- everybody is working hard, but that's one of the things that -- at the beginning of the year, I went and talked to coach Swinney," Smith said. "I wanted to know what he saw in me and how he wanted me to play.
"What's my role?"
Swinney offered a pretty straight-forward answer.
"He told me everyday he wants more focus, he wants more commitment and consistency," Smith remembered, during spring practice. "One of the biggest things I've been working on…consistency. You've got to come out here all 15 [spring] practices and bring it everyday.
"You've got to go to the weight room and bring it everyday. It's not just off and on, off and on."
Now, a strong safety, Robert Smith played quarterback in high school.
"I've felt -- through my whole career -- I showed spurts here and there. But I wasn't consistent with it," he said. "That's what I was focusing on. I think I didn't a pretty good job with work ethic. Always, since I was young, I had work ethic.
"That's one of the biggest things that I think I bring to the defense is work ethic, and bringing others along with me."
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables offered more positive words for Smith when he met with reporters midway through spring ball.
"Robert Smith has really been our most consistent guy back there," Venables said. "He's really improved in a lot of ways."
As a sophomore, Smith had nine tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup over 104 snaps in 13 games. He's in line to have a dramatic increase in all of those numbers in 2013.
Smith is listed as the starter at strong safety. Travis Blanks is slated to work beside him at free.
"Me and Travis, I feel like we've got a good connection back there. We kind of feel each other," Smith said.
And those are reassuring words for Clemson fans.