Tough guy on UT radar

Because no pads are worn during summer football camps, offensive line prospects are evaluated mostly on their pass-protection skills. A guy who's a road-grader in run blocking gets scant opportunity to prove it.

That's something Tennessee's coaches might want to consider while assessing Jake Smith of Jacksonville, Ala. Because he plays for a high school team that rarely throws the ball, the 6-4, 314-pound guard isn't the world's slickest pass-protector. But he's a real mauler in terms of run blocking.

"He's from a run team, and he's the best run blocker I've seen. Of course, I'm his daddy," quipped Wayne Smith, who attended last week's UT camp with his son. "Jake's pass blocking needs work but he's never had much instruction in that because his team doesn't throw the ball."

Even though his pass blocking lacks polish, Jake Smith did a reasonably good job of protecting the passer in Tennessee's camp. He won more battles than he lost, something few of the O-linemen could say.

"I thought I did very well," he said. "They put me at guard the first time and at center the second time around. I went like 5-3 in the one-on-ones. That was about as well as anybody (among the pass protectors) did."

With some refinement and repetitions, Jake Smith should become a quality pass protector. That's because he appears to be one of those kids who is so tough, so aggressive and so competitive that he will not accept failure.

"One thing I definitely need to work on is my pass-protection and my agility," he conceded. "I'm not slow but I'm not the quickest guy out there."

Smith, who bench-presses 340 pounds and squats 535, was clocked at 5.5 in the 40-yard dash at UT's camp. He says he has run a 5.3 previously. Regardless, he moves well enough to play guard at the collegiate level.

"My best position is guard," he said. "I like playing inside. I'm around 6-4, with a low center of gravity and good leg drive, so I like blocking the defensive tackles. They're not as quick as some of those defensive ends."

Although he is a bright young man – a 3.4 grade-point average earned him an invitation to Vanderbilt over the weekend – Smith hints that he is more likely to outmuscle an opponent than outsmart him.

"I'd say my style of play is smash-mouth," he said. "We run the triple-option at my high school, so you've got to move 'em out. You just put that (imaginary) target on their forehead and go at 'em."

Smith's run blocking is so good that Auburn reportedly was all set to offer him a scholarship last fall. It seems he had made quite an impression on Tiger offensive line coach Hugh Nall.

"Coach Nall told me if I came to Auburn I'd never have to pay a dime," Smith recalled.

Unfortunately for the prospect, Nall lost his job when head coach Tommy Tuberville resigned under pressure last December.

"That was disappointing," Smith said, "but I've been talking to Coach Grimes (new Auburn O-line coach Jeff Grimes) almost every day. I'll be at Auburn next week and, if I do well, I think they might offer me."

Although he was not offered a scholarship at the conclusion of UT's camp, Smith noted that Vol coaches "said they'd be watching me a lot this fall and they'd be coming after me."

Regardless, he thoroughly enjoyed the camp and believes he benefited greatly from participating in it.

"I thought it was a great camp with a very intense atmosphere," he said. "There were some really great players there. It was the best competition I've seen so far ... some of the best players in the country. There's no comparison around here to that kind of skill."

Being a high-energy guy, Smith naturally was impressed with the energy level of Tennessee's coaches.

"They're great, especially their intensity," he said. "The best teams are usually the ones that are most intense ... the ones that get after it."

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