KNOXVILLE – It’s safe to say 2011 didn’t go as planned for Ooltewah native Jacques Smith.
Coming off a 2010 campaign that earned him All-SEC freshman team honors, Smith inherited a starting role at defensive end with the expectation that he would breakout in 2011.
Eight games into the season, Smith found himself out of a full-time starting job as the Vols stumbled through a mid-year, four-game losing streak. The former Ooltewah High School standout went on to finish the season with 37 total tackles and no sacks—a stat line hardly more impressive than his 24 tackles and two sacks as a freshman reserve.
“There are no words to describe last year,” Smith said candidly when asked of his reflections on the Vols’ 5-7 campaign in 2011. “It's just, I know I can do better and I will do better this year.”
Smith’s improvement will likely hinge on three changes being made for the 2012 season: his size, his position and the new defensive scheme.
Smith said his stature was a consistent problem for him playing as a traditional defensive end in former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s 4-3 scheme. Playing at only 240 pounds, he was regularly opposed by massive SEC offensive tackles that often weighed north of 300 pounds.
“I just need to maintain my weight, I need to eat more,” the now 255-pound Smith said. “I feel like I'm an anorexic football player because I don't like to eat. That's one thing that's important in football is that you maintain your weight. I lost a lot of weight last season so I'm definitely going to be on a new diet trying to maintain my weight.”
Along with his added size, Smith is also getting a look at a new position in defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s new defense that is expected to use primarily a 3-4 front. He is working as the ‘Jack’ outside linebacker in spring practice, a hybrid position that calls for a player to be able to rush the passer along with contributing in pass coverage at times.
Though many of Smith’s basic roles will be the same as they were last season, he said he is liking some of the early results he’s seen from his new position.
“Honestly, it's not that much different except for me standing up,” Smith said. “That's the thing about the 3-4 is there is that stand-up backer off the edge, but it's the same thing as the rush end in the 4-3. Standing up has been great, I love the way I can attack the ball and I love that I'm just flying to the ball. It's just letting me be a football player.”
Head coach Derek Dooley said Smith was one of the players he had in mind when he thought some defensive personnel might be better suited for the 3-4 than for the previously used 4-3.
Having the former four-star recruit play further out in space and lined up either against the tight end or on the outside shoulder of a tackle could be the change Smith needs to increase his productivity.
“You take a guy like Jacques, he's a good example, when he plays in a 4-3, he's a defensive end and he's a little undersized. Doesn't mean he can't be good, but he's a little undersized for the prototype,” Dooley said. “When you stand him up as an outside backer, he's perfect size.”
Smith said every season is like a new start, but he is especially looking forward to the changes forthcoming in 2012.
“It definitely does (feel like a new start),” Smith said. “It gives us defensive players, especially the older guys, a new start and we have a new outlook on the year. Our opponents don't know what we're going to be in and it's going to be really exciting because we can surprise a lot of teams by our new scheme.”