Rob Smith's making his mark

Senior center Scott Wells had a surprising answer when asked if any members of the current UT football team area a threat his Wells' school-record 545-pound bench press.

''I'd say Rob Smith will push it,'' Wells answered. ''I don't know if he'll pull it off but he'll push it if he stays healthy.''

That's high praise, considering that Smith is a relatively unsung sophomore guard from Fort Thomas, Ky. Smith played sparingly as a true freshman last fall but his impressive blend of size (6-5, 310 pounds) and strength makes him a player to watch for 2003.

''I feel I've made a lot of progress, especially at left guard,'' he said recently. ''I practiced all spring at left guard. I'd never played left guard in my 13 years of football, so it was a lot different for me. I think being able to play several positions makes me more valuable. This fall I believe I'll play more right guard again.''

Smith arrived last summer as a 312-pounder but saw his weight dwindle to 298 in the oppressive August heat. Now he's back up to 310 and feeling strong. Unfortunately, a wrist injury suffered doing a power-clean has curtailed his conditioning work somewhat.

Asked how he has improved himself since last fall, Smith replied: ''Making myself more versatile, learning to play left guard, as well as right.''

The main obstacle standing between Smith and significant playing time this fall is a better understanding of his assignments. He must prove he can carry out his duties at full speed under game conditions.

''I can walk through it,'' he said with a grin, ''but when you play at game speed it's different.''

Unlike most young linemen, Smith came to UT with polished skills as a pass protector. Once he hones his run-blocking skills, he could be something special.

''Hopefully, I'm good at both,'' he said. ''I came here as a pass blocker but last year they improved my run blocking tremendously.''

After rarely seeing the field last fall, Smith figures to get substantial playing time in 2003. He's understandably excited about the opportunity to prove himself.

''It motivates me more,'' he said. ''That's for sure.''

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