Jacques Smith started just by trying to learn the schemes for every position on the defensive line.
It turned out after breaking them down mentally, the Tennessee sophomore had the physical tools to play them all, too.
Now a guy who qualifies as a handful coming from only one angle has begun attacking offenses from all over, sliding in and out, standing up or putting his hand down. So before Smith can be blocked by teams like No. 16 Florida at The Swamp on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.), it will have to find him first.
"I guess it's just about knowing positions," Smith said. "To know the defense, I mean, if you know one piece of the puzzle, you can probably figure out the rest. That's how it is for me. It's one big puzzle, and if I know my position, I probably should know everyone else's.
"I still feel my role is just kind of the same as it was last year, except I'm playing on the very first snap of the game. I mean, that's what (defensive coordinator Justin) Wilcox had me doing last year. I lined up at nose, three-technique and rush, and that's how they're going to utilize me. I feel like that's helping us out a lot."
Smith's versatility hasn't helped produce a flood of sacks for the Vols (2-0) through two games, though that's mostly been a product of the spread offenses they've faced to open the season.
Even with a pair of quick-hitting, up-tempo teams succeeding somewhat in slowing down the UT pass rush, Smith has created some headaches for offensive linemen dealing with his movement in the trenches — and maybe even a literal one for Zach Collaros as well after he drilled the Cincinnati quarterback on a sack he shared with Curt Maggitt last weekend.
The Gators (2-0) operate a more traditional, pro-style attack, which could produce more opportunities for Smith to cut loose, create pressure in the backfield and add to the 2.5 tackles for a loss he has to his credit this season. Depending on the situation and the personnel, Smith could be doing it from almost anywhere.
"Jacques has got some great qualities and so we're trying to find different ways to use him in the pass game so he can do his thing," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "The key there is to give us enough options but not to slow him down. So that's always the fine line that we're going to run.
"I think you see that more and more in today's game. It's really like receivers and defensive backs. You're trying to get receivers on defensive backs for certain mismatches, and we're trying to do the same thing on defense."
Without Smith understanding the scheme at every spot on the line, the Vols might not be able to use him to create some of those advantages up front. And it certainly takes a unique set of skills to play the various roles as well.
Smith's speed can make it difficult for tackles to block him coming around the edge. He has enough strength to hold his own against physical guards and centers on the interior.
And, naturally, the combination of both is what allows him to move around so freely in the first place.
"Jacques is a guy with versatility," defensive line coach Lance Thompson said. "He's explosive, he's got power, he's got some suddenness to him.
"We're never going to ask guys to do something they can't do or something that doesn't help the team, so whether it's Jacques or whoever it is, we're trying to put the best 11 on the field."
In most situations that group is going to include Smith. But where the Vols line him up is always subject to change.