"I really haven't gotten a chance to unleash on somebody," Smith said after practice Wednesday. Notre Dame has a strict practice policy where they don't take guys to the ground. "Hopefully I'll get a chance in a game soon.
"I feel like that is a major part of my game. I'm an old school middle linebacker. I'm a physical player. That's one of my most valuable assets, my physical play. At the same time, there is a time and a place for that. When my time comes I'll be ready."
Smith's first opportunity to hit somebody came in the season opener at Georgia Tech. With the Yellow Jackets threatening on the Notre Dame 4-yard line, the 6-foot, 230-pound Smith ran out onto the field in the goal line package.
"Oh man, one word to explain that is fast," the Rome , Ga. , product said about his debut. "I got out, it was a goal line formation, I sprinted out on the field, I was only out there for a play but it was a rush, it was a great feeling being at home and getting on the field."
Smith hasn't gotten on the field much for the ninth-ranked Irish, halfway through the season. Smith, who has one assisted tackle, guesses he's played just five or six plays of linebacker while the game was on the line. He has made a few fourth quarter appearances.
At the same time, Smith has noticed a rise in his practice reps and is hoping to be more of an impact player at middle linebacker during the second half of the season.
"I've been working in and out, I think the coaches are feeling more confident," Smith said. They know pretty much what I can do right now. Any time I get through, I feel like I'll be ready to go and be ready to play, step in and we wouldn't miss a beat.
"I've gotten more reps with the defense, more valuable meeting time, just a lot of time is pretty much paying off. So I feel like if I got put into a game right now, if I had to go in and play the full time I think I could hold my own."
At Rome High School , where Smith was a USA Today second-team All-American, he played in a defense where he was constantly blitzing. Smith put up amazing numbers, registering 117 tackles including 25 for loss with 10 sacks. Obviously at Notre Dame, the linebackers aren't blitzing on every down and Smith has had to adjust to coverage schemes.
"Up here what we run, it's not a traditional cover two, it's kind of like a man-up two," Smith explained. "So the corners are hard and the safeties are deep and at the same time the linebackers are matching up. Over the course of the last 10 weeks we've been practicing, I feel a lot better at what I'm doing."
Another hurdle for Smith has been getting comfortable running the defense.
"One thing about being a inside linebacker rather than being a corner or so, not to say they are not leaders but you are the mike linebacker, you're calling the plays, you're adjusting the fronts, you're doing the whole thing and that's been a big challenge.
"I'm getting better, the scheme is getting better, I'm getting more used to what I'm doing."
Then there was paying better attention during team meetings and film sessions.
"When we first started camp and we first started meetings, I really wasn't focused in like I should have been," Smith said. "Right now I am getting used to everything. Like coach said, we are no longer freshman, we played half the season, it's time to step up and man up."
Smith's father has been through the fire of major college football. An assistant coach at Rome High, father Charles played at Georgia for secondary coach Bill Lewis, then an assistant for the Bulldogs.
"There are many days where I feel like it was overwhelming for me," Smith said. "I talk to him, he calms me down because he played at a big-time level. He talks me down and gets me through it. It has helped a lot. He is kind of like my crutch."
Smith said things have slowed down for him the last three weeks. He has adjusted to new game plans each week, how to break down film and just how to be ready for a game.
Now he's waiting for that big hit.