Wanting to shed the label of being lazy, Andre Smith changed his diet. Or, more accurately, changed his portions.
Since the day he declared for the NFL draft in 2009, weight has been an issue for Smith, despite him being one of the top-ranked players in the draft and before that being ranked the top-ranked offensive lineman coming out of high school before he committed to Alabama.
His maturity, Smith admits, wasn’t where it should have been and paying attention to his diet was at the top of that list.
“Most definitely in my dieting, make sure I keep my body weight down to give myself the best opportunity to play and give my teammates the best opportunity to win,” he said this week as he looks to lock down the top right tackle spot in his first season with the Minnesota Vikings. “Just being consistent and staying on my conditioning and working extremely hard in the offseason.
“I kind of eat the same stuff and in different portion sizes. The portion control is the biggest thing. You can pretty much eat what you want, but you have to do it in portion control.”
Smith has been a solid right tackle, but he hasn’t been elite, as his No. 6 overall draft status might indicate he should be. When the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t re-sign him prior to free agency this year, former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, now the head coach with the Vikings, saw an opportunity.
He believes Smith has matured since his early days in the NFL and has some ideas on why Smith never became elite, although he said he didn’t want to share them “because it wouldn’t be good.”
With the Vikings, Smith has a new opportunity. Initially expected to enter into a competition with Phil Loadholt for the top spot at right tackle, Smith appears to be in the lead after Loadholt retired a week before training camp began. T.J. Clemmings has shared time with Smith as the first-team right tackle, but those opportunities could be swinging more Smith’s way.
A new team also means a new coach. The “no-excuses” Tony Sparano is now Smith’s position coach and vows to hold players accountable.
“I know Tony is going to push him. He’s going to drive him and keep on him and keep working him,” Zimmer said of Smith. “And I don’t know if that’s what he needs, but he’s a really good athlete. His career started out kind of, he had a broken bone in his foot and he was overweight and all that. I think he’s matured quite a bit. I still think he’s got a lot of good football in him.”
Smith was heavily criticized when he left the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine without telling his group leader he was leaving. He later admitted he should have handled it different but said he wasn’t in shape and left to begin preparing more earnestly for Alabama’s pro day.
He says now that the criticism he took back then didn’t affect him.
“It really didn’t matter because I knew I was the best player. I knew I had (Alabama coach Nick) Saban and he had my back and his words speak volumes to this league in the NFL,” Smith said. “He gave me his blessing and Cincinnati, fortunate enough, trusted his word and I ended up going No. 6.”
[FOR RECENT VIDEOS, CLICK HERE]
But, once there, Smith had some more maturing that needed to take place and that’s why he changed his diet.
“I just wanted to get rid of the stigma of being always overweight, big, athletic, lazy at times. I just wanted to get rid of that,” he said.
However, the “lazy” label wasn’t something he agreed with.
“I didn’t think so, but obviously I didn’t play really well my rookie year or my second year. And then dealing with the foot injury,” he said. “But ever since then I think I’ve been doing an extremely good job.”
He called those days of criticism an “eye-opener moment.”
Certainly, Saban pushed him at Alabama, too. That’s where he learned to become a mauler, and Saban’s attitude impacted Smith.
“Just always being tough at all times,” he said of Saban’s lessons that impacted him, “and being physical at all times and always trying to kick the next person’s ass.”