When does a third-year player feel like a rookie? The answer is when he hasn't played his first two seasons in the NFL.
Such is the case with Jaguars defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith. The former Louisiana Tech standout was a third-round selection in the 2010 draft and came to the Jaguars with high expectations. He was a solid 6-2, 300-pounder who had excelled for four seasons. He started 44 of 49 games there, including all 12 games as a senior when he earned All-Western Athletic Conference 1st team honors.
But Jaguars fans have been waiting to see his talents in the NFL. He suffered an Achilles injury the first week of training camp in 2010 and on Aug. 31 was placed on injured reserve.
After recuperating an entire season, Smith appeared ready to go the following year. But a toe injury coupled with a yet fully-recovered Achilles landed him again on injured reserve last Sept. 3 as the team made its final roster cuts.
Two inactive seasons has left Smith champing at the bit to get on the field. He also knows some fans are calling him out to perform or move on.
"My last call? Of course," he responded in meeting with local reporters prior to the Jaguars starting their second week of OTAs. "I'd be a little bit on the crazy side to think this is not the last call.
"It's three strikes and you're out. (General Manager) Gene (Smith) brought me in here to produce and that's what I plan on doing this year."
Smith's presence on the field this year is even more important with concerns to the team's two starters at tackle, Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton. Alualu underwent offseason knee surgery to have his knee cleaned out after it limited his effectiveness last year. Knighton was involved in a fracas at a local establishment in April in which he suffered a serious eye injury when hit over the head with a liquor bottle. Whether both players are one hundred percent at the start of training camp in late July remains a question. A healthy Smith would alleviate some of the concerns over the status of the two starters.
Smith doesn't feel he's behind from a physical side of things even after missing all of the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
"From a physical standpoint, I've been getting ready for this for two years, so no, I'm not," he said. "From a mental standpoint, I would probably say a little bit because I still have to adjust to the speed of the game and everything.
"I came along pretty well in the veteran camp, and right now, I'm in the mix of things and running with the guys so I feel good."
Head coach Mike Mularkey knows the frustration that Smith has been through for two years, but said the 23-year-old tackle has handled it well.
"It's a frustrating thing to sit there and watch your teammates perform even when it comes to practice," Mularkey said. "You just miss that time being out on the field and being in the huddle. He really has done a nice job for us. He was on that list I get above and beyond what he's doing. I think a lot of that is his determination to get back out there and not have any more setbacks."
All Smith wants to do is see some live game action. Two years of wearing sweats on the sideline during Jaguars games has left him feeling like a newcomer.
"Do I feel like a rookie? At times I do. After a while you hear veterans yell out, 'Over here rookies, over here.' It kind of gets old after a while."
Jags Counting on Smith
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