Smith Plays Himself Into The Mix

As a freshman Scott Smith got a taste of it. He was on the field at linebacker spelling Corey Mays against No. 3 Michigan at the Big House. He helped No. 17 Notre Dame to the early season upset with his first career tackle on a reverse to Steve Breaston. Smith played in eight contests, mostly on special teams. It was about all he could ask for that year, and he was poised for big things to come.

Well big things still might come for Smith, but not nearly as soon as he expected. He didn't see the field last season as a sophomore, running mostly with the scout team. But the 6-foot-3, 244-pound Highland Park, Ill. product hung in there, practiced hard, put together a good spring, and has played himself into the mix to start as a junior. On Notre Dame's initial depth chart released Monday at the start of fall camp, Smith is listed with senior Anthony Vernaglia as the top right outside linebacker.

"It was tough but, the coaches did what was best for the team and obviously last year was last year," Smith said. "But this year is what's important right now. Just motivation to work that much harder this year with my teammates and just keep pushing to get better and see that field as much as possible."

That strong play by Smith in the spring has quickly carried over into the fall. He studied both inside and outside linebacker positions as much as possible, and that flexibility has caught the eye of head coach Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown.

"Well I'll tell you what, we really like what we've seen out of Scott Smith," Weis said. "Don't go by just the depth chart where you see him as a right outside linebacker, because he's playing inside and out for us. He's one of those guys that is forcing us to take notice of him because he's got position flexibility, and you've heard me mention that several times over the last few years. But here's a guy who can play both outside positions and both inside positions. Most people can't do that. He is strong enough and physical enough to play a point on the edge, but he also shows enough awareness in pass coverage where you can play him inside and not get exposed there."

Where Smith lines up this fall, inside or outside, remains to be seen, but the junior is just happy for the opportunity to show what he can do.

"Right now, I'm just trying to do the best I can to learn all the positions at linebacker and put myself in a position to compete at both inside and outside," he said. An all-state pick in his final prep season, Smith made 143 tackles including 23 in one game. "Just trying to get into that playbook as much as possible during the day and see what I can pick up at each spot.

"It's definitely an exciting time having not played last year. Obviously everybody's goal here, all 100 guys, they want to play as much as possible and that's what I want to do. Whether that's starting on defense or special teams, I just want to be in a position to help the team be successful."

While Smith could contribute at inside linebacker, with returning starters Maurice Crum Jr. and Joe Brockington back, along with Toryan Smith and a few others battling for time, his best shot to start would be at one of the two outside spots. The Irish don't have much experience at the two positions, as John Ryan, Morrice Richardson and a couple others are competing for roles.

Smith could've handled last season differently, but he didn't sulk. He took each practice rep as an opportunity to get better, and now he finds himself in this great position.

"There's adversity in all kinds of situations, but you just have to look for the positives and keep pushing and pushing and just keep working harder with your teammates, which everybody's there just to pick you up and just keep going," Smith explained. "So that's exciting just to know the fact that there is so many opportunities this year and so much competition going into the season.

"I think going into camp, it's just full of opportunities. Everybody has that chance no matter where you are on the depth chart to make a significant impact. It's just about how you perform and all the coaches have to go off of is what they see. If you perform at a high level and consistently perform at a high level no matter what spot you're at or what position you play, you're going to have a chance to play your way into the mix."

Everybody had to start from scratch when Brown was hired and started implementing his 3-4 defense in the spring. It would be hard enough learning one position, but Smith is spending almost all of his free moments trying to study two.

"I think it's beneficial because it gives me a better understanding of the defense, and I'm able to see things differently from the perspective of both an inside and outside backer," he said. "I try and get into the playbook as much as possible, but we are hard pressed for time to rest. I try to get to bed early. It's kind of a balance."

The little nuances Smith learned from Mays and Brandon Hoyte as a freshman, he still applies to his game today. Every practice is an opportunity for him to learn something new, improve his skills or make a play like he did against the Wolverines two seasons ago.


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