Redshirt sophomore tight end Alex Smith was thrust head-first into the fire early this season when position mates Brett Pierce and Matt Traverso were both lost for the year, but he has responded magnificently. Despite having the pressure and beating of playing nearly every down of every game this season, and despite his need as a primary blocker in an increasingly run-dependent offense, he ranks second on the team today in receiving yards (282), catches (21) and touchdowns (2). We were privileged to sit down with Alex to talk about his season and its demands...
The Bootleg: What is your overall
reaction to this role where you have had to so singularly step up at the tight
end position, and what has that been like emotionally for you?
Alex Smith: Actually, I never had much time to think about it. I just was just forced in there right when [Brett Pierce's] injury occurred, so I really didn't have too much time to think about it or wonder what to do. Basically, just going all through camp was enough preparation, and I knew I would be playing a lot. It hasn't really been too hard of a change for me.
The Bootleg: In the Boston College
game, you had to go - as you said - without thinking about it. Then in the
San Jose State game, you had a week for everything to sink in. Did it feel
Alex Smith: Yeah. Obviously, there was a big change in my performance. In the Boston College game, I was just trying to do everything - be in the right spot. Against San Jose State, I was able to better prepare. I knew who I was up against, and better understood their tendencies. I just felt more comfortable in the game - I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
The Bootleg: When you looked at the
film of your own play in those two games, what did you see different in your own
performances? What did you analyze that you were able to do differently or
Alex Smith: Basically, I just didn't seem hesitant. I just felt more prepared for San Jose, and I think that showed. I was more aggressive, and that helps a lot.
The Bootleg: How does it feel to
now be involved in the offense, to be able to run downfield and make those
Alex Smith: (big smile) It feels great. I've been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for my opportunity. Finally I get a chance to get in there and show a little bit of what I can do, and I'm loving it.
The Bootleg: Speaking of showing
what you can do, you had a fantastic fall training camp. Several observers
felt you may have had the best camp of any offensive player. What do you
think you did to allow you to step up and perform at that high level, versus
Alex Smith: I really wish I did know. You're not the first person that's said that. I didn't really think I had any different approach to it, and just showed up and went hard every day. People just noticed me a little bit more, I guess. The offense allows us to shine, also, which is one big thing. The kind of offense we run now, the tight ends are an important part of it.
The Bootleg: The past few years, we
have consistently been excited with the use of the tight end in spring ball or
fall camp, but then not seen it in the regular season. This is the first
year it really looks like the tight end is being used. Can you
explain to those of us who don't know just what the role of the tight end is in
the offense that has you so involved?
Alex Smith: We have big play receivers, so one part: the defense has to focus on them, with double coverage or what-not. Since we are releasing, we are open by nature of the coverage on Teyo and Luke. That gets us open and makes us easy targets for the quarterbacks.
The Bootleg: Do you feel any change
in your body this year versus past years? Do you feel the maturation, do
you feel the difference from the workouts with strength coach Ron Forbes that is
allowing you to do different things?
Alex Smith: Definitely. I bulked up ten to fifteen pounds from last fall, and it is just much easier to block those big D-ends. They're 270 or 280, so having that extra bulk helps a lot. I still move pretty well, so it's not hindering me in that aspect. All it has really done is help me feel stronger and more comfortable blocking those D-ends and linebackers.
The Bootleg: Can you talk about the
blocking side of the game? Where do you evaluate your blocking abilities
in both pass protection and run blocking, and where do you need to improve?
Alex Smith: I think it has been a vast improvement from last year, though I still am not quite where I need to be yet. Through practice, you get those techniques. Coach Quinn has really emphasized that aspect - pass blocking against linebackers.
The Bootleg: Now that you have your
own position coach, instead of a shared coach with the offensive tackles as
before, can you talk about the difference that makes for you?
Alex Smith: Brett [Pierce] and I were just talking about that. It's a big change. You feel like someone is focusing on just your part of the offense. Before we had a tight end -slash- tackle -slash- guard coach, and he had a whole bunch of people to worry about. Now we have a coach who can sit with us in film, tell us everything we are doing wrong and focus on just us. In practice we are going through our own drills, and the more attention you get, it really helps out a lot.
The Bootleg: The flip side to these
injuries and the increased playing time is that now you are forced to go pretty
much every play. Do you feel any effects yet from the games or practices,
where you can't really rotate out?
Alex Smith: You know, I really haven't. I feel comfortable taking all the reps in practice, and that makes it easier to do that in the games.
The Bootleg: Has Brett Pierce taken
on the persona of 'coach' at all now? Does he shout things out to you from
the sideline to help you out?
Alex Smith: He's like my second eyes. He has been right there, and he can tell me what he's seeing that I do. It's a really big help actually, to have that second coach who can tell me sometimes what a coach can't always see.
The Bootleg: In the Arizona
game, you obviously got a lot of balls thrown your way - arguably the focus of
the offense. How did that open up so much for you in this game? Was
it something the coaches saw in the defense?
Alex Smith: Through the entire week before the game, we saw that their defense was singling up on the