Bucs seventh-round draft pick Michael Smith is used to flying under the radar. At 5-9, 205-pounds, he isn't as big as some other NFL running backs, but Smith is a fighter. And sometimes, you can never count a fighter down.
Smith will not only be fighting first-round selection Doug Martin and third-year back LeGarrette Blount, but Mossis Madu and free agent signee Robert Hughes for a roster spot. Being drafted usually gives most rookies somewhat of an edge, but Smith doesn’t see it that way. After the first day of rookie camp Thursday, Smith talked about the attitude he is bringing into camp.
"Well, it's the first day. We came out fast, humidity got to us a little bit, but we kept pushing through it…so you want to be a pro, if you're not going to try you're not going to be a pro.” Smith said. “All the rookies came out here hard, fighting through it. Keep pushing trying to help each other, building off each other. It was a good practice, the first day."
Smith is fast – running a 4.35, 40-yard dash – at his pro day, but feels he has much more to bring to a team than just being a return specialist. Last season for the Aggies, Smith rushed for 870 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 16 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
"I do everything. I'm on special teams, offense, I'm on everything.” Smith said. “I just try to be more valuable to the team; being a bigger impact as a rookie coming in, not just limiting myself to special teams. On offense too helping the other guy, helping all the running backs out, so just being there as a presence.”
Smith’s trainer, Joe Defranco of Defranco’s Gym in Wyckoff, NJ, talked to PewterReport.com about Smith’s speed.
“Mike is one of the fastest, most explosive athletes I've ever coached and I've been doing this for 15 years,” Defranco said. “I clocked Mike consistently at low 4.3's in the 40-yard dash. He also broke the 10-yard sprint record in my gym. He is a legit ‘4.3 guy’, his speed is not artificial. What I mean by that is he's blazing fast both on the field and on the track on any given day. He can run a 4.3 on his worst day. I clocked him at 4.25 during his last day of training with me before he left for his pro day.”
Despite his size, Smith can help the other running backs out. In pass protection, Smith laid the groundwork for big runs by Robert Turbin and quarterback Chuckie Keeton last season. Against the Ohio Bobcats, Smith drove an offensive tackle backwards four yards allowing Keeton to keep the ball on the option and gain five yards instead of taking a sack. Smith ended the Idaho Potato Bowl with 157 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
Defranco also talked about Smith’s size and strength.
“I actually get offended when people call him undersized,” Defranco said. “To me, Mike is optimal size for a running back. Try tackling a 5-9, 205-pound ball of muscle that bench presses 435 pounds, squats over 600 pounds, and runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. That is not undersized to me, that is blunt force trauma for the poor defender trying to bring him down.”
Turbin, who rushed for 1, 517 yards and 19 TDs last season, got most of the press and publicity leading up to the draft and was rated a top-10 prospect at the position by several draft sites. Turbin went on to be drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round, the 11th running back selected in April. The Buccaneers took Smith 106 picks later.
PewterReport.com asked Smith how he dealt with his teammate getting so much attention, and if he plays with a chip on his shoulder because of it.
“I expect to do big things and I believe in myself, just like Coach [Schiano] said they wouldn’t have drafted me for no reason,” Smith said. “Playing with him [Turbin] was a great thing. It was a one-two tandem. Anything is possible, for two running backs to get drafted from the same school, and not even for a big-time school like Oklahoma or Texas. I always tell everybody ‘keep your head up, keep working if you’re a first string or second string, anything’s possible’ because some people didn’t get drafted, even though they’re first string from a big school. I just have to keep working hard, put effort out there. You can’t buy effort, you can only do it. “
That effort is something that the Bucs scouts and staff noticed when they watched the film on Smith. At times, Smith would drag three defenders with him as he kept plowing ahead for extra yardage.
“Before Mike even entered my gym, I liked him,” Defranco said. “When we spoke on the phone, everything was ‘yes sir and no sir’. He was extremely respectful and humble. When he finally arrived at the gym and started training, he didn't change at all. He gave 110 percent effort during every single drill, every single day. He did exactly what we asked of him and never questioned anything. This is rare for an athlete as gifted as he is.”
Being raised in Tucson, AZ and playing college football in Utah, Smith is getting used to the Tampa humidity.
“Hydration is the key,” Smith said with a smile.
Smith quickly changed the tone back to working hard, something that he mentioned several times Thursday afternoon after the rookies had completed their first day on the field.
“Well, we get to come out early and get acclimated to it, ” Smith said. “I just push through it. You have to fight through everything. Anything in your way, you have to fight through it. I’m trying to make the 53-man roster; 46 on active and I’m trying to make it. I just have to keep fighting. I don’t care how hot it is, how humid it is, I don’t care if my leg hurts, or anything. I have to keep fighting.”
The Bucs once again will be one of the youngest teams in the NFL, but have added veterans like Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson through free agency. The most tenured player on the roster is Ronde Barber, who is entering his 16th year in the league, all of which he has played in Tampa Bay.
“I just watch him on the field how he carries himself,” Smith said. “He carries himself very well off and on the field; how he presents himself to other people. Just watching him, I don’t even have to talk to him, just watch how he acts, how he carries himself is a big impact on me.”
One of the impacts the future Hall of Fame cornerback made with the rookie was his work ethic.
“The way he studies, you see him in the front of the classroom with his notebook open taking notes still.” Smith said “I’m just going to keep watching him.”
Being a draft pick won’t automatically land Smith that roster spot he wants so badly; but his speed, effort, attitude, and work ethic will give him a fighting chance.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.