Rob's ribs won't stop him

Rob Smith didn't miss a start in 2004 – the only Tennessee offensive lineman to do so – and he isn't planning to miss any in 2005.

Smith, a 6-foot-4, 306-pound junior from Fort Thomas, Ky., suffered severely bruised ribs in the fourth quarter of last Saturday's game against Alabama. The pain is intense but manageable. In other words, he'll be in the starting lineup Saturday night vs. South Carolina … aching ribs and all.

"They're pretty sore," he said this week. "I'll be ready to play Saturday but they're pretty sore and bruised up right now. When I cough, it kind of takes your breath away."

Smith started all 13 of Tennessee's 2004 games at left guard. He started Games 1 and 4 of 2005 at center because of injuries to Richie Gandy. He started Games 2, 3, 5 and 6 at left guard.

Basically, Smith doesn't care where he starts … so long as he starts. He has been in the starting lineup for 19 consecutive games, and he intends to continue that streak the rest of this season and on through his senior season of 2006.

"Yeah, it means a lot to me," he said.

In addition to pride, Smith has another motivation to answer the bell each Saturday. Believe it or not, he figures that's the surest way to keep someone from taking his job.

"You can never lose your starting job if you're never out of the lineup," he said. "Cal Ripken (who holds the Major League Baseball record for consecutive starts) used to say that if you never come out, you never give anyone else an opportunity to do better than you.

"I've always tried to live by that."

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