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There's an undistinguished history of teams redoing their draft boards after watching workout warriors in shorts. Never mind that such players sometimes fail to live up to expectations once the pads are on; or that players who didn't test well (Jerry Rice, Anquan Boldin, Jeff Saturday) starred once in uniform.
Smith could well fall into the latter category. He has a disarming smile and a quick wit off the field, but on it he's a mauler with functional strength, the long arms to keep pass rushers at bay and the agility to get to the second level and take on linebackers. Joe Pendry, a former NFL assistant who was Smith's position coach the past two seasons, raved about Smith on pro day, citing his work ethic, leadership and tenacity. Pendry told one scout that Smith may have more upside than Redskins Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels.
Even so, there is Smith's youth and inexperience to consider. He grew up in Birmingham, attended college an hour's drive away in Tuscaloosa and rarely traveled beyond those points except with the team. While dining on seafood gumbo, shrimp ceviche and surf-and-turf sushi rolls last week at Chuck's Fish, a popular restaurant on the outskirts of campus, he asked a California native if the state is really as cool as he had heard.
He has a naiveté about him that teams could find charming ... or alarming, considering the money he would command as a high first-round pick. Fame and fortune are known magnets for opportunists, and privately some teams wonder how long it will take Smith to learn life's lessons—and whether those lessons would be as painful for the team that picks him as they might be for him. Smith is universally regarded as a good kid, but he raised another red flag at his pro day when his guests included 30 family members, three trainers, a publicist and his agent.
"That's as much a problem as anything," says one G.M. picking in the top 10. "Nobody's questioning the guy's character; I haven't heard anybody say this guy is a jerk. But he's got to take charge, because once he gets drafted, these people aren't going to magically disappear. He needs to take hold of his life."
Smith comes from a strong family. He grew up in church on Sundays and had biblical proverbs instilled in him by his mother the rest of the week. He doesn't flinch at the shots being taken at him. He has never felt overmatched on the football field and doesn't expect that to change once he's drafted. "I want to be the best offensive lineman to ever play football, to ever strap them on," he says. "I feel like I can be the best. It's bold, but that's how I feel. I'm not being cocky or arrogant. It's just how I feel about myself."
The goal for him is to convince others to feel the same way.