The frustration of being overlooked during the high school recruiting process still drives new Buccaneers defensive back Ryan Smith.
Despite a strong prep career at Wise (Md.) High, Smith watched big programs pass him by before landing at Division I-AA North Carolina Central University. Rather than letting thoughts of being disrespected sour his college experience and affect his play, he ran with the opportunity by eventually breaking school records in solo tackles (168) and kickoff return yard average (28.1).
Smith’s all-around body of work combined with pre-draft workouts and interviews managed to elevate his appeal, resulting in a fourth-round selection (108th overall) by Tampa Bay. Just being one of 253 names called during the three-day process is an accomplishment, but there were still 24 defensive backs selected in front of Smith and that just stokes the flames to prove himself on the field.
“Most definitely,” Smith said following Saturday afternoon’s rookie minicamp practice at One Buccaneer Place. “I still feel like I’m doubted, still feel like people don’t know what I can do, so I’m just here to prove it.”
Tampa Bay entered this offseason looking for secondary help and general manager Jason Licht and the Buccaneers have addressed the issue through free agency and the draft. First came the signings of cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson, then came the selections of first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III and Smith.
Adding to the on-field attractiveness of the 6-foot, 190-pounder is his versatility. Smith played both cornerback and safety in college. While he was listed during the draft as a corner, Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith already has him working with the safeties.
The more you can do, the more you can do, and Smith’s hoping that translates over to rookie-year playing time.
“That helps me in knowing where everybody on the field is supposed to be, as well as myself,” Smith said. “Corner did help me with ball skills and everything and playing safety at first in college helped me learn where everybody on the field is supposed to be. It helps me be a better player.”
Head coach Dirk Koetter said Saturday it’s too early to be drawing conclusions about any player in May, but that it doesn’t take long to recognize Smith’s overall skill set – hence his fourth-round selection.
“He’s looked fine, he’s transitioning,” Koetter said. “He played two years at safety, then corner, then back to safety. He’s learning a new system. I think he pulled up a little bit, had a little soreness today. He’s going to do fine. His quickness and athleticism jump off the tape at you when you’re watching it. What we’re doing right now, it’s too early to get too carried away with these guys.”