On-the-job training

There were times last fall when Tennessee freshman Jacques Smith looked like an All-SEC defensive end. There were other times when he looked like a guy who'd been studying the wrong playbook.

Now that he's a first-team player, trying to maximize the former and minimize the latter is his primary focus this spring.

"I need to be more consistent. It's all about consistency," Smith said following Saturday's first intrasquad scrimmage. "Your starters are guys you can count on every single play. They're going to have the right alignment, the right assignment and the right mindset for the ballgame. That's something I need to develop."

Obviously. Like most freshmen, Jacques Smith had a wildly erratic debut season in 2010. He was quite effective in Game 5 at LSU (5 assists), in Game 6 at Georgia (2 solos, 1 tackle for loss, 1 assist), in Game 8 at South Carolina (2 solos, 1 hurry) and in Game 12 vs. Kentucky (1 solo, 2 assists). He was invisible in several other games, however, a fact he readily admits.

"I'm still in that young habit where I'll go three plays and then I'll bust one," he said. "I just need to develop that consistency. It's really just the knowledge of my playbook. I just need to dig in there and study some more.

"And it's about more reps. I think the more repetitions I get in practice, the easier it gets when they're called on the field."

Smith's reps were limited last season because he was stuck behind Chris Walker and Gerald Williams, two quality seniors who played an awful lot of snaps. Now that Walker and Williams are out of eligibility, Smith suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of starter AND team leader.

"My role is a lot different," he said. "Just having those guys like Chris and Gerald around, those are great leaders and they inspired me every single day. They showed me the ropes. Now I'm on my own and I've got to feel my way. I'm learning it slowly, just like everyone else."

The most important thing he learned from his senior teammates last fall was the toughness required to play major-college football.

"They taught me the physicality of the game," Smith said. "You've got to be mentally tough through every aspect of the game. You can't break. You can't let anything affect you. Once you let anything affect you, that's when your game goes from a high level of energy to just terrible."

Smith played with a high level of energy in the first spring scrimmage, recording 3 stops, a tackle for loss and a hurry in a workout reportedly dominated by the defense.

"Our first scrimmage went really well," he said. "The defense played really hard. We had a lot of energy coming out. But there's a lot of things we need to work on as a defense and a lot of things I need to work on personally. The scrimmage was good because we can see the things we did wrong and the things we did right. We have a lot of things we need to correct."

At 6-2 and 243 pounds, Smith is quick enough to play end but tough enough to occasionally slide inside and play tackle in coordinator Justin Wilcox's scheme. Although Smith didn't play any snaps on the inside on Saturday, he figures that could change in the next scrimmage.

"Coach Wilcox switches us around, wherever the best fill for the defense is," he said. "Probably next scrimmage they'll work something out where we have two fast guys inside and two big guys outside. We switch it up, so you never know what's going to happen."

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