With as much experience as any Cyclone defender, it should have been a breeze returning to action last spring.
However, Smith will be the first to admit that wasn't the case. Coaches asked him to make a position change from rush end to WILL linebacker, a position he had never played in his college career. In addition to his change in spots, Smith wasn't completely healthy.
"Learning the position was hard, and then I was playing through a lot of pain," said Tyson Smith, who racked up eight tackles against Northern Iowa last September before injuring his leg. "It was really a combination of both, but I got through it. I'm glad I came out healthy and had the whole summer to get back to 100 percent. I took a lot of reps in the spring and played both ones and twos, so I had a lot of film to watch from it all. That all helped me out this summer."
Smith admits that he has an entirely different feeling about where his game is now.
"I'm real comfortable with everything," he said. "I've learned a lot at the linebacker position since the beginning of last spring, I'm in much better shape, and feel real healthy. I don't have any pain right now. I'm about as healthy as I can be."
While Smith may be healthier than he was last spring, plenty of challenges remain on the field. His responsibilities have changed greatly from the days when he could just pin his ears back and rush the quarterback. It's a transition that wouldn't have been so smooth if he made it two years ago.
"Everything is different now," Smith said. "Playing defensive end meant I was pretty much just on the edge trying to rush the passer, and worry about a few run responsibilities. When you're at linebacker you've got to know everything. You have to know where guards are pulling and read a lot of different things. You have to read the fullback, tailback, and both at the same time. You have to know pass coverage. I probably wouldn't have been able to pick it up so easily two years ago."
Smith is getting a passing grade from McCarney's staff, too. When Jason Berryman was suspended indefinitely days before training camp opened, it would have been easy for defensive coaches to give up on their spring experiment of moving Smith to linebacker. But that hasn't been the case. Smith has given Skladany everything he wants at WILL linebacker, and rush ends Shawn Moorehead and Korey Smith have remained the top two at Berryman's former spot.
"Tyson likes playing there and is doing a good job," said McCarney, "and we'll continue to leave him there. We think that move is permanent and have seen enough to think he can play WILL linebacker."
Smith has no regrets either…about coming back from a very serious knee injury to play one final season.
"I guess it's time to leave it all on the table and go out and do like I do," he said. "I don't have any second thoughts about coming back. I'm doing fine, feeling real healthy, and I'm good to go."