Wide receiver Josh Smith talked to us after practice last week.
Last year you were on the scout team. This spring you're competing for playing time. Is it different, is the approach different for you now?
‘'Yeah, absolutely. Now I'm working in with the 1s and trying to get things learned as quickly as possible. We have a lot of new stuff in. There's just a real big difference when compared to coming out on the scout team, the "look" squad, knowing that you're just going to be giving the defense a good look. You want to play fast and try your best to prepare your team for the game that coming week as best you can, but now it's a whole different ball game for me. I have to know the stuff, learn it, and get back into the rhythm of things. I had a lot of time off and it's real good to be back out here again. This first practice, I was just trying to get things so I get yelled at as less as possible.''
Like you said, we've seen a lot of new stuff … the Pistol, all new stuff. How long have been working in that and how well do guys know it?
‘'A lot of the guys, we try to get it in on our own as much as possible. Quarterbacks, receivers, have been meeting up and just going over the stuff. A lot of guys have been calling one another, figuring out what we're supposed to do, because we have a lot of guys in new positions.
‘'So, they have to learn a whole new scheme and things. The group, we're not trying to just know what you're doing, but what everybody else is doing so we can plug guys in at different spots. With me coming in new and trying to learn one thing and three other things at the same time, you know, it can get a little complex. But I'm staying focused right now and the coaches, they've got a lot of patience with me, and they're trying to work me in. They know that I show a little talent out there, I know how to do the basic things, but ultimately for me to stay on the field I have to know what I'm doing so that's really what my dedication is to now in these 15 practices.''
How close are you to that?
‘'Actually, it just depends on certain plays for now. There are certain plays that I know real well. I'm extra confident. I'm in and I'm ready. I know what I'm doing. And then on other plays, I'm a little puzzled and so I want to look at things and observe things real well, what clues can I get by the way guys are lined up that can best tell me what I'm doing while still looking at the quarterbacks at the same time.''
The Pistol stuff that you were working today, it seems like it can be more dynamic, like you can get more of the playmakers on the field and the ball …
‘'It gets us transitioning in a little bit faster and that speeds up the learning process, too, actually. The more stuff you get in and the more stuff you're actually able to look at rather than just talk about it and discuss. That's what makes being out here on the practice field different than being in the meetings rooms. Now we're hearing it and we're learning it. You've got a vision of it in your head, but when you're trying to take that to the field, it's sort of a different thing. Like, you know that guy is there, but when he's coming at you full speed flying right by you and you missed the block, it's a little different.
‘'So, you've got to come out here really aware and really focused. The better the group is, the stronger the connection is between the group, the better we're able to help each other learn faster.''
What are your expectations in this offense? What can you individually bring that maybe wasn't there last year?
‘'I hope to get the offense a much more vertical threat, to stretch the field. I feel like with me bringing that speed to the outside and sometimes on the inside, you're going to need extra guys to double me and cover me. Hopefully, all the man-to-man stuff, we want to take advantage of that when we feel I may have a mismatch and stuff like that. But for the most part, I want people to know that this offense is a vertical offense. A few critics beat us up last year, saying we don't know how to get the ball down the field, have too many possession receivers. I feel like now with me being here, we want to stretch it out more and get balls down the field and when teams feel they can play off, we'll steal from them and take short stuff and run the ball down the field. But to this offense, what I really want to bring is just moving it down the field.''
You don't really think you're going to see a lot of man, do you? If I'm a defensive coordinator, there are guys here I'd go man against, but you're not one of them …
‘'I'm not counting on seeing a lot of man, but when we do see it we want to take advantage of it and then, you know, when I'm doubled team we want to catch the other guys wide open.''
I know there were some questions with the academics the past couple of weeks. Do you feel confident all of that is behind you now?
‘'Yeah, I mean, just transferring over, it's a units thing, the credit units that you once had and when you transfer over, what actually is going to count at UCLA, you may lose a couple here and there. You have to get those back, those credits to go onto fall ball. Really, last quarter was better for me, getting decent grades in all the classes, and now I feel I'm more confident moving on to the spring and summer as well.''
You're not going to be overloaded, having to take a bunch of classes this spring and summer?
‘'No, and that's the thing about it. I feel like it was over-exaggerated. I mean, it is a serious situation for me, as it is for any player on the team, to stay academically eligible. But at the same time, I feel like I'm in the same boat as everybody else – I must pass all my classes, just like anybody else. The coaches and the staff and the academic staff, they're all doing a real good job of staying around me.''
Transferring, you never know what is going to count and what's not …
‘'Yeah, and it's kind of different because it's like, college football, being a student-athlete, it's kind of the same system but it's kind of a different system at each school, especially when you're changing from a semester system to quarter as well. What really gets tricky is, how can I get me to fit into this system when I'm already programmed into a different system. With those things, I've been doing a whole lot better at it and falling in line, trying to do the best that I can do. I'm trying to do the best things that I can do to help my team out, and one of those things is to stay academically eligible.''