You can say Marshall product Justin Smart had a decent season for the Mustangs in his inaugural season with the team last year. He only started six games and earned All-Conference Freshman honors.
Yet the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder may be in for an even stronger sophomore campaign after switching from defensive end to linebacker.
That is why his All-Conference aspirations are not farfetched despite playing for a unit that finished tenth in the conference in overall defense last year. Not to mention that Smart is done playing a position that frustrated him at times in 2007. "The technique was hard to get down," he said. "And I struggled with the pass rush."
That did not stop Smart from racking up 29 tackles last season which included an eye-popping seven tackles against Houston.
Now he is playing what he considers his best position.
"I like it a lot better," he said of the position. "I played linebacker in high school.
"It's a more natural position—I feel more fluid."
The transition has not, however, been all smooth for the sophomore. He said he has been forced to improve his footwork to prepare to drop into coverage—something he did not have to do last year.
That has not even been the hardest part for the Mustang. "You have to know everybody else's position," he said. "You have to know where your help's at and defensive lineman and secondary."
Smart, however, believes he and the defense will benefit from an offseason under new defensive coordinator Tom Mason. He said the team is bigger, stronger and faster and is hoping to make bigger plays in 2008.
"We're aggressive," he said. "Coach Mason, the defensive coordinator, he's not scared."
"We're going to get them. We're not sitting back and waiting on anybody."
All of which is reason for Smart to improve on his "decent" season last year.