IN FOCUS: WR/KR Devon Smith

See how the Penn State freshman receiver/return man has progressed during the preseason in our exclusive In Focus series.

THE PLAYER

Devon Smith, WR/KR (5-foot-7, 155 pounds)

A handful of rookies have turned heads in practice drills this preseason, but perhaps none more than Devon Smith. First, because of his small stature, and second, because of his impressive speed.

"He's tiny," one observer explained. "We were walking out to the [practice] field and he was near Brandon Ware — it was like a cartoon."

Despite his small frame, though, Smith turned in a low 4.2-second hand-timed 40 over the summer. As another observer said, "This kid has amazing acceleration. And you put him in a race against another guy and he's even faster."

That speed has led to Smith fielding punts in practice. He shown "great explosion" with his legs, although he needs to get comfortable with "pulling in the ball." According to one observer, "He can field [punts] pretty well, but he tends to take his eyes off to see the coverage."

Smith has also used his legs to make some big plays in practice. During the last preseason scrimmage last Thursday, he took a swing pass "about 70 yards" for a touchdown. "He made a full-speed cut and blew by everyone."

THE ASSESSMENT

Size: The biggest concern with Smith is regarding his size, or lack thereof. Observers have indicated that the staff is worried about his durability, but he's not shown any issues in contact drills as of yet. There is some sentiment that his small size could be an asset with his speed, making him "tough to find in traffic."

Speed: Again, probably the fastest straight-ahead sprinter on the team, Smith has great acceleration and the ability to make cuts quickly. "The challenge is finding a seam, but when he has he's blown through it," an observer said.

Endurance: This is perhaps the biggest issue Smith has focused on this summer, aside from adding some size to his frame. Observers point to him being conditioned as a sprinter; "He's used to running one race, not going play after play." This is where the staff is trying to get him increased endurance so his speed can make a greater impact on the passing game.

The good news is it is doubtful he will be counted on to be an every-down player this season. So while his endurance improves, the staff can pick spots in which to use him.

Approach: Said to be generally "pretty quiet," Smith "knows he's fast" and will "talk a bit when it comes to racing." However, he's been pretty focused on improving his technique and working toward making an early impact on the team, which has been the coaches' intention this preseason.

Hands: Smith has shown good hands on intermediate and short routes out of the backfield and slot. Although he has the speed to be a deep threat, observers indicate he needs to get more consistent with deep balls, but they also feel that he will be used more in the intermediate game early on.

Impact: His early impact on the squad could be significant, particularly if the coaches get comfortable with a true freshman returning punts, a responsibility they are traditionally not prone to give to rookies. This, along with the passing game, could greatly benefit from his "blazing speed," particularly if he gets even more reliable with his hands, which have been solid so far this summer.

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