Smith's attention to detail eases transition

List makers beware: steer clear of Notre Dame sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith -- he'll muddle the uniformity of your work.

Sure Smith fits well into many-a-Top 10 these days: 10 best sophomores in college football; 10 best defensive athletes; 10 most promising players for 2015 and beyond -- the list of lists is endless.

But Smith's affinity for odd numbers makes for less-than-convenient copy.

Asked Wednesday how much film time per day his still-new role as Notre Dame's weak side linebacker requires, the affable Smith offered, "I'd say about 53 minutes."

Not 50, not 55, but 53.

"I'm very precise with my work," he offered.

Likely a touch jocular in his response, Smith's desire to improve and thirst for knowledge in the game is unmistakable.

"There’s a lot of things going on at that inside position compared to what he did last year. He was playing outside, he wasn’t asked to do a whole lot but contain the football and go run things down," said head coach Brian Kelly of Smith the 2013 freshman All-American. "This has been a real big change for him. I think he’s handled it well and he only wants more. He is an incredible professional as it relates to film study and wanting to be the best he can be at his craft. So he’s made great progress but there’s a long way to go."

What Smith lacks in experience as an "inside" player, as he is often aligned on the weak side of a 4-3 front, he makes up for in awareness of self and persistent self-evaluation.

There's not a hint of "I believe I'm the best" from a player that definitively ranks among Notre Dame's best.

"There are errors that need to be corrected," he said after three games on the weak side. "Just for a comfort level I feel good about it. I lean and rally on my teammates. (Defensive coordinator) Brian VanGorder) Is coaching me to be a 'one-timer.' Make a mistake and that same mistake won't ever happen again. That's what he preaches to me."

VanGorder has seen enough in Smith that he's green-lighted the lightning-fast linebacker to make his own decision when faced with a certain blitz situation.

Smith has resisted to date.

"I’ll just give you one quick blip of a conversation," said Kelly of Smith's conscientious nature. "He was given an automatic, which allows him to make an automatic call, which pretty much fires him, allows him to blitz. But the circumstances, the formation, all these things have to line up and he’s not ready to do that. He doesn’t want to do that yet because he wants to be perfect in everything he does.

"He’s evolving into that position. We’ve got great trust that we can give him that button that he can go take it. (But) He’s not ready to grab that button yet, but he’s getting there."

Smith's continued ascent is likely. It's a trajectory he began from the outset of his freshman camp last August. Like most rookies, the difference from high school to student-athlete at Notre Dame was stark. It's an experience fresh in his memory and he actively imparts that knowledge to the current crop of newcomers.

"The best guys are going to play," he said. "Age, size, doesn't matter, if you're the better guy, (you play). You get what you earn. I'm just pleased that they're hungry and really learning.

"The less you complain, the less stressful it gets to be a student-athlete," he added of his own freshman season experience. "You have to have that laser-beam focus." Top Stories