Draft day: grillin' and chillin'

Former Tennessee players will spend the NFL draft weekend in different ways.

Jesse Mahelona will be in Hawaii at a luau, feasting on three pigs, a cow and tons of fish. Albert Toeaina will be fishing in the bay near San Francisco.

Rob Smith will grill out.

You would expect no less from Smith, a blue-collar offensive lineman who bypassed his senior season so he could get paid to play.

Smith knows he might not get drafted but he's confident he can play in the NFL.

``I tell people I'm more worried about getting drafted than I am making a team,'' Smith said. ``I've seen the competition. I've played with people already in the league that have been playing two, three years. I don't have a doubt I can make a team and play in the league for a few years.''

``I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be disappointed if I'm not drafted, but if that's the route I have to go. I've always prided myself on taking the hard road and doing what other people don't want to do. It seems like it would fit me more if I don't get drafted.''

That chance exists. I've not seen a draft projection that has Smith going before the seventh round, yet I've heard draft analysts say they love Smith's toughness and attitude.

There are advantages to not being drafted in the seventh round pick: You can select your team.

There are advantages to being drafted in the seventh round: Interest by the team.

``They could have drafted someone else, so they have an interest in you and they think you can help the team or they wouldn't have wasted a pick on you,'' Smith said.

``Even if you're a sixth-round guy, it's still a good amount of money they're putting into you. I'd rather be drafted than a free agent. I want to go to a team that wants me. That's important to me.''

Smith grew up a Cincinnati fan, living 15 minutes from Riverfront Stadium. He would love to play for the Bengals. He would love to stay in Tennessee and play for the Titans. He would love to play for Pittsburgh because the Steelers' offensive line embodies his blue-collar work ethic.

Of course, Smith knows he has no say so over where he goes.

He has read some intriguing analysis of himself. One, for example, questioned his durability. That's laughable.

``I've been playing football 16 years and I've never missed a start I was supposed to make,'' Smith said. ``I was like, `Durability! That's an issue? How can you go 16 years without missing a start, but durability is an issue? Are you kidding me?' I don't consider toughness or durability an issue.''

Smith agrees with draft experts that say he has a nasty streak and finishes blocks and is tough and smart and hard nosed.

Smith said his workouts have gone well. He said he bench pressed 225 pounds 37 times, the most of anyone at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. He said he's been working the past few months on his explosiveness. He said his 40-yard time at the combine wasn't very good, but his 10s and 20s were.

``That shows explosiveness,'' Smith said of the shorter dashes. ``Besides, if you're having to chase someone for 40 yards, you might as well give them a touchdown.''

Smith said he's been working with strength and conditioning coach Charlie Petrone of Knoxville and has gained three pounds while losing eight percent body fat.

Smith said he can play all three interior positions in the offensive line, that he's intense and that he learns quickly.

``If they're paying you that kind of money, they don't want to tell you three or four times how to do something,'' Smith said. ``You tell me one time, I'll pick that up really fast.''

Smith said he won't be awestruck by practicing with stars or future Hall of Fame players in the NFL.

``If I've got an All-Pro or future Hall of Fame guy in front of me, I'm going to be asking questions and watching every possible detail I can,'' Smith said.


Mahelona said he's heard he likely will be a third-round pick.

He said he helped his stock at the Senior Bowl with his quickness, but he hurt himself by playing so low to the ground that blockers smothered him. Mahelona also suffered a sprained MCL to his knee at the Senior Bowl.

He said he's healthy.

``My body is now my investment,'' he said. ``I have to look at it that way.''

Mahelona said the Browns have shown the most interest, giving him a private workout. He said he figures to be a nose tackle in the NFL.

``I'll be a good player and bring a lot to a team, regardless of where I'm playing,'' Mahelona said.

Draft Projections

Defensive back Jason Allen will be the first Vol taken, early in round two. Parys Haralson, a defensive end, will go next, early in the third round, just ahead of Mahelona.

Those are the only former Vols that will be taken on Saturday.

Linebacker Omar Gaither will go early in the fourth round.

Linebacker Kevin Simon, running back Gerald Riggs Jr., and offensive linemen Cody Douglas and Albert Toeaina will be selected between rounds five and seven.

Tony McDaniel, Chris Hannon and Smith could be selected, but look for them to sign as free agents, along with C.J. Fayton and Jason Hall and perhaps Jason Mitchell.

The Vols will have a total of eight players chosen. No other SEC team will have more players drafted.

That would be another indictment on UT's 5-6 season. .

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