Marino: Buyer Beware

Back in 07 former talent scout Tom Marino had reservations with Michigan DT Alan Branch and last year felt the pundits had over-rated and the Jets over-drafted Ohio State's Vernon Gholston. One player today has him scratching his head. See who he believes might well be this season's 1st round bust.

Andre Smith was widely considered the top prep prospect in the country as a senior at Huffman High School in 2005 and became the first linemen ever to be named Alabama's Mr. Football. He was Alabama's top recruit and started every game as a true freshman.

In his three seasons with the Tide big number 71 started every game and in 2008 was named a consensus All American. At the conclusion of this past season, Smith was awarded the 2008 Outland Trophy given annually to the nation's top interior linemen.

Over the last two months, I spoke to a number of individuals associated with the Alabama program and the prevailing sentiment among all was that the powerful Smith was a bright young man who learned football with normal reps. He was popular with both his teammates and the staff and other than his suspension prior to this year's bowl loss to the University of Utah, has never been a social problem at or prior to attending Alabama.

One would have to be impressed with what you've heard up to this point in time, but after watching him perform on at least four occasions this past season, I sometimes wondered if I in fact was actually watching the right individual.

He has good size (thick with a strong lower torso). Although he didn't always utilize this particular asset, he had much longer arms (35 3/8") than I had originally anticipated.

I would like to think that his problems with me began at the Indianapolis combine, but the truth be known, I was extremely disappointed in his play during the 2008 season. He really had problem with the better pass rushers within the league and felt he played down to the competition (see Arkansas State game).

On the positive side, he is a good knee bender an a impressive athlete for his size. Andre showed excellent contact balance and power, throughout my evaluation, I noticed Smith did not come off the football with any degree of consistently. had more than his share of false starts, repeatedly never finished anything, was acutely lazy on the backside, and did not show particularly good recovery skills when beat initially. Once he got his weight over his pads or committed in one direction, he showed a limited ability to recover. He tended to rely on his upper body strength, which is fine when you are playing the likes of Western Carolina or Western Kentucky, but you can't be a leaner on not bring your feet with you after your initial contact and be successful at the professional level.

As expected he handled the bull rush in pass protection extremely well. He was able to build a fort, replace his hands and stop the charge effectively, but he also had a multitude of problems with strong edge rushers and with the quick inside counters. Surprisingly, on the tapes that I viewed, he was "beat off the go" (late out of his stance) far more frequently than I would have expected, he got his feet crossed and his inside shoulder turned to the sidelines far too frequently. He appeared to be in chase mode far too often (see Tennessee game) a very bad sign for left tackle projections.

To my way of thinking, Andre is going to need a good deal of work on his pass sets, footwork, hand placement and recoveries if he is to remain at the tackle position, but based on what I saw in 2008, I would certainly not feel comfortable with this player on the left side. Most clubs I suspect will start this player at right tackle, but don't be surprised if he were moved to the left guard position rather quickly.

The bowl game suspension certainly was disappointing, but I'm not going to mince any words; virtually every football and basketball player in the college ranks college player has had contact with player agents prior to his senior season and I would further suggest more than a third of these top players have either committed to an agent or has signed a contract long before his eligibility has expired.

Since the bowl suspension was definitely not academically or criminally related, I suspect it didn't so much as raise an eyebrow with the professional clubs, but, what followed at the Indianapolis combine, I'm afraid set off some major alarms among scouts, coaches and general managers from Buffalo to San Diego.

He slowed up out of shape, weighing a soft and flabby looking 332 pounds, which hardly made a good first impression. One veteran scout related to me after viewing him that he looked more like Fred "Rerun" Stubbs, from the 70's situation comedy "What's Happening" than a person he would select with a first round selection. His interview and demeanor with another NFC club was to put it politely, disappointing. When scouts and coaches at the player hotel asked if he would be running and working out the following day, he repeatedly uttered the word "uncommitted" all the while knowing, he had absolutely no intention of doing either the following day.

The next morning, Smith not only didn't run or perform position drills, but he didn't even see fit to show up with his group! His agent, one of the best in the business, did his very best to defuse much of the criticism that was being heaped upon his beleaguered client, but as one prominent offensive line coach later interjected to me, "if he can't follow the direction of his position group leader/baby sitter, I shudder to think what's going to happen when we change things up on him at the line of scrimmage?"

At this week's Alabama workout, the saga continued. Andre has shed some weight, but left still another current NFL coach to utter, "If he looks this bad physically at twenty-two years of age, what do you think he's going to look like in five to seven years when he has money in his pocket?"

The actual workout was rather pedestrian. He had problems with his direction change, displayed just-adequate body quickness, showed little stamina and his 19 reps in the bench did little to endear himself to the coaches, scouts and front office personnel in attendance. To put it all into perspective, keep in mind that at the Indy scouting combine, Ole Miss 214 pound safety Jamarca Sanford did 29 reps while cornerback Vontae Davis at 203 pounds did 25. Heck, at last years scouting combine diminutive Virginia Tech (now Denver Bronco) wide receiver, Eddie Royal put up an amazing 24 reps!

What the future holds for Andre Smith will be played out over the next six week. He is, in my opinion, a far superior player than either Alan Branch or Vernon Gholston, mentioned earlier. Still, I am starting to grow tired of the many excuses being made by the people associated with this individual and with the immaturity he has shown to date. I would have to suspect that many of the teams within the league have begun to feel the same way about this talented man-child.

Since I am no longer actively involved in the draft process, I would like to give this young man a very important piece of advice; "it was your decision to enter the professional ranks and now it is time for you to start acting like a professional player. The NFL is a business, first and foremost and your lack of commitment and preparation has certainly not endeared yourself to the people who will be making these very critical draft day decisions. You still control your future, but you have a great deal of work to do in a very short period of time.

In closing, I want to remind the many draft prognosticators out there of a player who created a buzz similar to that of Andre Smith just over a half dozen years ago. In 2002, the Bills selected a behemoth, can't miss, offensive tackle from the U of Texas with the fourth overall pick by the name of Mike Williams. He had rare size, unusual athletic ability and the position skills to become a very special professional player in the minds of many professional coaches and scouts, but his lack of dedication to the game quickly manifested itself. After just four disappointing seasons, his promising career came to an abrupt end.

In a relatively short period of time we will all know what career path Andre Smith will choose. I hope he can quickly turn things around and ultimately becomes a productive professional football player.

But wishing and hoping and planning and praying will never take the place of dedication and commitment.

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