Steady Progression Helps Smith

Steady progress throughout developmental camps, training camp and early preseason action has been a key to Raonall Smith's ascension up the linebacker ranks.

Second-round draft pick Raonall Smith has really begun to catch onto things in practices and during preseason action. The big, speedy linebacker shows a lot of Dwayne Rudd-type abilities, in that he can fly to the ball and make plays all over the field.

"I think the most encouraging thing we saw on our defensive side of the ball last night was that Raonall Smith took a huge step forward," head coach Mike Tice said after their intrasquad scrimmage. "We were excited about some of the things he did.

"We believe Raonall Smith is going to be an excellent player for us. He's another guy that's big and can run and knows how to take on the guy with the ball. We're pleased with the progress."

Smith made another big step forward in his first preseason action.

"Again, I was encouraged by the play of Raonall Smith," Tice said following the preseason opener. "He had a nice play in the backfield. I think he's starting to realize how talented he can be. So we're real excited about his play."

So excited that he was moved into the full-time starter position at weakside linebacker following that game. Smith possesses virtually all the physical tools you look for in a weakside linebacker. He has prototype size (6-foot-2, 244 pounds) and speed (4.55) for the position. In fact, Smith has the movement skills of a defensive back. He's a superb physical specimen with a rare combination of speed, strength and athleticism.

The rap on Smith coming out of college was his ability to diagnose plays. But Smith, who is classroom smart and a hard worker, has been a prize pupil thus far for linebackers coach Brian Baker and defensive coordinator Willie Shaw.

Smith shows terrific range, can chase down plays from behind and is an explosive hitter and tackler. He will make tackles from sideline-to-sideline and has all the tools to run with running backs in pass coverage.

"I thought after he missed the Kansas City work that might set him back, but it really didn't," Tice said. "He's steadily increased his big-play potential. I think he's got lots of ability, and we've decided that we would rather have him learn on the field doing it rather than watching.

"We like his size and his speed. I think he's relaxed out there. He understood the speed of the game [in the preseason opener], whereas some of the younger players did not understand the speed of the game."

If he stays healthy and continues to improve, the sky is the limit for this talented rookie with a ton of upside potential.

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