Even though his school doesn't receive a lot of attention, Smith is generating first round grades from the NFL.
Chris Steuber: You weren’t always a dominant left tackle in college football, as you started your career as a tight end. Now that you’re a top offensive tackle in the nation, take me back to the time when you were asked to change positions. How was that transition?
Jason Smith: It was a unique situation, and it was me trusting what a coach saw in me; Coach [Guy] Morriss. It was me wanting to maximize the opportunity God blessed me with. The transition for me was easy because I just wanted to play football. I didn’t care where I lined up, it could have been on offense or defense; it didn’t matter to me. I always wanted to be the best at what I was doing and you may never be the best, but you can always work and try to become the best. It was one of those situations.
CS: Did you have any reservations about moving from an offensive skill position to a position on offense that isn’t very glamorous?
Smith: You can consider it kind of a discredit, because you don’t hear your name called any more after a catch. But besides that, playing on the offensive line, you really get to show your personality. You get to show how patient of a person you are, how physical a person you are and how much you truly care about your team, because you have to work with four other guys to make a great unit. If you’re not on the same page as the other guys, things are not going to work and it’s going to be your fault that a certain play didn’t work and ultimately a game is lost. It’s one of those positions; you take a lot on your shoulders as an offensive lineman.
CS: The athleticism and versatility that you possess has really helped you become one of the most dominant tackles in the country. Since making the move to offensive tackle, what aspect have you defined the most over your career?
Smith: I’ve learned to care about the people next to me more than I care about myself. Once I mastered that, it became natural for me to block - pass block and run block. It became natural for me to run out on screens and throw my body out there. You can play the position, but unless you really care about the quarterback you’re protecting, you’re not going to do everything it takes to protect him. You also have to care about the running back you’re blocking for; you’re not going to give that extra push to get that extra yard. So once I learned to care about the other guys around me, and not to sound like a total team guy, but it’s true, once I really learned to care about the other four linemen, quarterback, running back and wide receivers – being a tackle became natural.
CS: As a redshirt freshman, you played in every game at tight end and made eight starts. That year, you had just six catches for 70 yards, but one of those catches went for a touchdown against Oklahoma. It’s very rare for an offensive lineman to score a touchdown, but when you think back to that moment, what do you remember about that play, and how did it feel?
Smith: I remember everything about that play… [Laughs]. The play was Spartan-22. It was a tight end corner in the back of the endzone, with a running back flat. I was wide open; I wasn’t totally open, there was a guy there, but he bit on the running back. I was open and the quarterback threw me the ball and I did a little Batman leap and caught it. I was so happy. I did a little headshake thing and I was just excited. I never caught a touchdown.
CS: And after you caught that touchdown, the coaching staff moved you to the O-Line…
Smith: Ah, yeah, pretty much… [Laughs].
CS: It’s hard to score touchdowns, and once you got a taste of it, they took it away from you. Do you miss that aspect of the game, to feel the crowd’s energy after you get in the endzone?
Smith: That’s a unique situation. I understand where you’re coming from, because when you score you feel like you did something good for your team. If you’re familiar with a car’s engine, playing tight end was like being a carburetor. But now playing on the line, I’m a piston. A lot of people don’t know this about cars, you can pour gas down a manifold and get it to crank without a carburetor, but without a piston it’s not going to do anything.
CS: Scoring a touchdown is the ultimate high for an offensive skill player. But what gets you more excited these days: a pancake or helping one of your teammates reach the endzone?
Smith: [Pause]… I’d have to say a pancake. When you physically assault somebody and put them on their back, that light in your head is blinking. But when your team scores a touchdown, it’s like woo, we get to get off the field… [Laughs]. As linemen, we’re happy that we score and get points on the board, because it makes us look good. But realistically, linemen, we’re just happy to get off the field.
CS: Speaking of physically assaulting someone, run blocking is probably your favorite thing to do, right?
Smith: It doesn’t matter, I like to do both; you can assault someone on running or passing plays. I’m ready to go no matter what the situation is, whatever is best for the team.
CS: I guess they both come naturally to you?
Smith: As an offensive lineman, every move you make is unnatural. That’s why we’re the best athletes on the field. We make unnatural movements look natural. How many other guys do that on the field, with the exception of defensive backs? And most of the time, DB’s are running forward.
CS: I’ll argue that running backs also make the impossible look possible.
Smith: You’re right, they do, but we’re still better athletes than them too.
CS: You’re stronger athletes than running backs, but better overall?
Smith: We’re way better athletes than them. We carry more weight; if we weighed 220 pounds, we could do what they do.
CS: I’m sure many scouts around the NFL believe you’re a tremendous athlete, and for the one’s who haven’t made the trip to Waco to check you out, what should they know about you?
Smith: I’m capable, mentally, physically and emotionally to do whatever it is you want me to do. I’m not just saying that because I’m sitting here saying it, but if you show me something once I’m going to get it. And, if I’m not as great at it as you want me to be, show it to me better on film, and I guarantee I will get to that point. I think I’m truly blessed with my ability, and I think I can do anything.
CS: There’s a lot of a quality schools in the State of Texas, and obviously you’re a great talent, but with Baylor not being a top team, did you notice a lot of scouts not attending your games?
Smith: I don’t know anything about that. I’m a true believer in controlling the controllable and not worrying about the uncontrollable. I can control my mindset and my demeanor when I come to work. I can’t control what scout comes or what my player rating is; I’m not a T.O. [Terrell Owens], I’m not fixing to tell everyone out here that I’m good. If I did that, that will be the day I give up 10 sacks.
CS: What went into your decision to attend Baylor, and were there any other schools that recruited you?
Smith: I had a lot of schools recruit me, but I believed in Coach Morriss and what he was trying to do here. I’m not a frontrunner kind of guy; I’m not a bandwagon. I’d rather be a guy to carry a situation than to be carried. So, I wanted to go somewhere like what Baylor had going on. When a guy recruits you and he tells the truth, I listen. When a guy comes to my house and tells me what can be, what I am and telling me about me, I don’t listen. Don’t tell me about me; let’s talk about what’s going on at your school and what you’re doing to make it better. Don’t tell me how good of a player I am, how well I will fit in and that I have a chance to play right away. I was 18 years old, 225 pounds; don’t tell me I could start right away in the Big 12. Tell me the truth: come in and gain weight, do what you’re supposed to do and there will be a lot of possibilities. Now you’re speaking my language.
Smith has a chance to be Baylor's first 1st round draft pick since 1996.
CS: Wow, you were only 225 pounds; you’re about 305 pounds now. Talk about your evolution as a player.
Smith: I was 225 pounds soaking wet and that was after I had been at Baylor for a couple days and had eaten a few meals. Who knows how much I weighed when I got there. But when I first got there and saw that food I just started eating. Man, that food was good. I came to school hungry. I was hungry for food, experience, knowledge, and greatness - hungry for it all.
CS: I hear you’re quite the comedian and that you like to keep it loose in the locker room and on the field.
Smith: Well, I used to be uptight and always wanted guys to be focused, but I learned, and it really took Robert Griffin (Baylor quarterback) to come around [to loosen me up]. I’ll tell you what, Robert Griffin and Romie Blaylock, when those two guys came around, it loosened things up a little bit, as far as their demeanor in the locker room. It taught me to have a little fun with it. The coaches want you to have fun, they’ll even crack jokes with you; it allows you to be yourself. When you can be yourself and show your personality, you will play with more focus. I’ve learned to do that.
CS: I’m sure your teammates appreciate your humor and the fact that you keep it loose, because it’s a serious situation you guys face each week.
Smith: It’s kind of one of those things where you can talk all the jokes that you want, but when you put your helmet on, it’s time to get serious.
CS: So what’s it like on Saturday when you enter that first huddle; do you crack a joke to loosen the mood before it’s time to get serious?
Smith: Oh, no, not at all. On Saturday, it’s all about work; let’s get this over with so we can go in the locker room happy. There is none of that joking stuff on Saturday, because I don’t want to interfere with anyone’s preparation. I truly think of football as war; the game is war. You don’t sit around and crack jokes when somebody is shooting at you. It’s all about war on Saturday, and there’s no room for jokes.
CS: In the coming months, you have a chance to do something really special and be the first player from Baylor to be selected in the first round since Darryl Gardner in 1996. To achieve that goal, what do you have to do this offseason to solidify your status as one of the premier tackles in the country?
Smith: All that stuff you mentioned is great, but what I’m looking to prove, really, is that I’m Jason Smith and I come from Baylor. That’s what I want to prove, nothing else matters. Not the speed, not the weight; what matters is that I’m Jason Smith and I’m from Baylor. When you see my name, you see Baylor. This is what Baylor has for all those young guys going to college; this is what Baylor has to offer. For the 100 or so guys still at Baylor, like you said they don’t have the attention from the scouts, yada, yada, yada… here I am from Baylor, I’m the chosen one this year. I truly believe that I will do what I’m supposed to do. I will weigh what I’m supposed to weigh. I think I will be very, very impressive when the Combine and my Pro Day come along. Overall, the only thing I’m worried about is my name and what comes along with it, and that’s Baylor.
CS: That’s a good approach, but during the draft process it’s more about you and less about your team. You have to go into this process with the mindset that it’s another season and you will be a main focal point of a lot more scouts. It’s a time where you have to sell yourself, your ability and excel in the workouts you’re asked to do.
Smith: That’s true, but I don’t think you can judge a football player by a workout. You have to watch film on him and really know him as a person. I think you can learn about skill players during a workout, but when it comes to offensive linemen and the scouts watching me workout, I guarantee they have my film on their mind before I start. They will know my strengths and my weaknesses from the film while they’re working me out, so for clarification they will test me on my strengths and see if my weaknesses are glaring.
CS: Personally, I find it unfair that a significant percent of your future is determined on how you workout in shorts and t-shirts and not on the film you worked on throughout your collegiate career. What are your thoughts on that?
Smith: It’s just the profession I’m choosing to pursue. I don’t know what scouts do; I don’t know their job, but I’m sure they’ve watched film on me and the other guys. The teams scouts and O-Line coaches will have their own opinions and will decide who they like the best.
I’m a football player as well as a cowboy and I go to cow sales. When all of the cow’s come in, you’re looking for something specific. At those sales, you find yourself talking to someone and you say, “What about that cow? He’s big and fat.” But then the guy says, “Yeah, but his chest isn’t defined, and take a look at his back hip; you don’t want that one.” That’s what the draft process is going to be like - a big meat market.
CS: Has being a cowboy helped your game as an offensive lineman in anyway?
Smith: Being a cowboy makes you a tougher football player. People think of cowboys as guys who ride horses and stuff, but they forget about the things you have to do. There’s a lot of manual labor that’s involved, and it makes your body what it is. I truly believe the reason why I’m able to do something’s out on the field is because I am a cowboy. I’ve thrown hay bails around, scraped horse manure, I know how to bend my knees, chuck this and grab that. Everything about being a cowboy is helpful.
CS: As a Dallas native, I’m sure you’re a huge Cowboys fan. How huge would it be for you to put on that silver helmet and proudly wear the star every Sunday?
Smith: It would be very huge. I pay attention to Flozell [Adams] a lot and [Mark] Columbo; the two tackles they have. I understand what they do in that system and the way they do things. That’s a huge dream of mine to play for the Cowboys and to block for [Tony] Romo, Marion Barber and to work for Jerry Jones. That would be a blessing; it’s a sense of pride. I’m from Dallas; this is America’s team. I’ve watched Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, they were my team when I was younger, and if I were to wear the star – it would mean so much to me. It may be a situation that’s much more personal than attending Baylor, because this is something I’ve grown up with. Baylor was something I had to adapt to; the Cowboys, since I was little, is something I believed in. They were the team I always knew about, and now you’re telling me I could wear this star. That’s a team full of swagger; not just anybody can play for the Cowboys. But there are a lot of other teams out there, not just the Cowboys.
CS: I’m sure being a member of that franchise would be a life long dream, but it seems unlikely that the Dallas Cowboys will be in the running for your services, as they don’t have a first round pick next year. What would happen if the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles or Washington Redskins selected you and all of a sudden you would be forced to hate your childhood team, as they would be your biggest nemesis?
Smith: Ok, it’s the same thing, it’s America’s team and I’m about to beat the mess out of them… [Laughs]. Seriously, it’s still the Cowboys, I know about them and I’m about to beat them up. I believe that I can block anybody. I’ve watched DeMarcus Ware, and when he gets his sacks, I’m like, he wouldn’t have gotten that on me. That’s the mindset you have to have, don’t waste anybody’s time if you don’t believe in your ability. If you don’t believe you can block somebody, you’re going to get someone seriously injured or fired.
Smith's personality and play will win over NFL personnel this offseason.
CS: Being considered one of the top offensive tackles in the country, do you ever find yourself comparing your game against Michael Oher or Eugene Monroe?
Smith: Early in the year, I think we were getting ready to play UConn, and I watched Eugene Monroe on film playing against UConn. What I took from that film was here’s a guy that’s a top rated tackle and I’m the guy who’s coming for the No. 1 spot. I’ve seen a bunch of those guys, and I’ve seen some things. I see similarities in our games, but I have my own way of doing things.
CS: With the NFL Draft’s popularity at its highest level, are you one to go on the Internet and check out mock drafts and rankings and all of that?
Smith: To be honest, I really don’t. I call Coach [Randy] Clements, my line coach, and we’ll talk about it. I might get on the Internet sometimes, but I don’t look at that stuff. Sometimes I will pop it up, but it changes day to day, so there’s no point in looking at it.
CS: Even though you say you don’t really look at it, is it hard to avoid sometimes, especially when your name is being discussed?
Smith: Sure, every time I look at my phone I have a new voicemail from somebody. They will leave a message that starts with, “Hey man, I heard…” I just hit delete; I don’t even listen to them.
CS: Do you think the reason why people have Oher and Monroe ranked ahead of you has to do with the exposure their teams get compared to what Baylor receives?
Smith: No, the reason why I made it this far is because I play at Baylor. They reason why I believe I will be the No. 1 tackle is because I play at Baylor. I don’t think the school stuff really matters. But I do play in the Big 12. Those guys [Oher and Monroe] probably wish they were at Baylor. I play in the Big 12, I play for the underdog school in the conference, and we get no respect. We go up against the best in the nation; we play top-ranked teams consistently. We play Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State; they’re all ranked high. Earlier in the year, we played Wake Forest, they were ranked high. We played UConn, and they were a good team. Those guys wish they were in my situation, they wish they played for Baylor. I don’t look at them and say I wish I played for their team. I believe that the Big 12 is the best conference in the nation, and Oklahoma will prove that when they beat Florida for the National Championship.
CS: Who was the toughest defensive end you faced during your time at Baylor?
Smith: I’d say Auston English from Oklahoma. He’s a complete defensive end. He’s extremely fast, quick and strong.
CS: What did he do against you that made him so tough to block?
Smith: The whole game he was trying to make me roam. I’m sure if I went up against [Brian] Orakpo he would have tried to make me roam as well. When you’re an offensive tackle going up against a guy that’s good and equally athletic, you have to be really technical. In that game against OU for me, it was all about being calm. I tried to stay in my element; I didn’t want to do anything I don’t normally do.
CS: How disappointing was it for you to finish your senior year with a 4 – 8 record and not be able to help your team get to a bowl game?
Smith: This year it was more about the team rather than myself. It was about more than a bowl game, it was about being in the Big 12 Championship game. There’s a bad taste in my mouth, as well as the rest of the team. But in my case, the bad taste in my mouth will come out during the Combine. And in Baylor’s case, the bad taste will start to come out now as they prepare for next year. The opportunity for me to be a champ is about to come during the draft process.
CS: The draft process can be an exhausting, mind draining process that can take its toll on an athlete. What do you want to accomplish this offseason that will benefit you on draft day, and how do you envision draft day being?
Smith: I have a lot of visions about draft day. I could be in New York, because I think I’m a top-ten guy. Or I could be at home, which means I have to sit there and wait for my name to be called. I don’t know what I will be doing on draft day. I just imagine that phone ringing and on the other end somebody saying, “Hey, we’re fixing to draft you,” and I just go crazy. I’d fall on my knees and pray and say, “Thank you, Lord.” If my prayers are answered and I’m a high first round pick, my work and preparation during my career and through the offseason will have meaning.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.