Butch Jones comments after first day in pads
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Hometown players speak after first practice in pads
Every question fielded Tuesday by Tennessee sophomore receiver Josh Smith somehow came back to dropped passes.
This wasn’t a hostile horde of reporters grilling Smith about his mistakes in 2013. Smith was simply adamant about making a public mea culpa.
“I’m a perfectionist, and dropping passes is just the hardest thing for me,” Smith said.
Smith’s interpretation of his freshman season may be overly harsh. Few expected the Christian Academy of Knoxville graduate to play a large role in 2013, but he won a co-starting role with a great camp. Smith played 11 games and 343 offensive snaps — fourth most among the receivers — while catching 12 passes for 182 yards.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who defended Smith last year, was far more charitable in his assessment of his debut season.
“He made some great plays, too,” said Jones, when drops were mentioned. “I have tremendous confidence in Josh Smith.”
Smith said that confidence is appreciated and kept him going through low points a year ago.
“They could have easily pushed me aside because of all the drops I had,” Smith said of the Vols’ coaching staff.
Smith also knows that with more options at their disposal in 2014, he’s in greater danger of being “pushed aside” if he doesn’t take a step forward.
Jones said the addition of junior college transfer Von Pearson and freshman Josh Malone has dramatically elevated the talent of the receiving corps.
But the absence of Alton “Pig” Howard, who is away from the team on a personal leave of absence, and the move of Devrin Young to running back, could open up new opportunities for Smith.
Howard was the starting slot receiver, a position for which Smith seems a more natural fit.
“When I came here, that’s where I thought I was going to play,” Smith said.
Smith has never doubted his own ability. Jones has repeatedly said that Smith has the best hands on the team, and Smith concurs.
“That’s why I got recruited,” he said. “I’m a white receiver. I run good routes and I can catch.”
Smith left speed off his list of attributes. At CAK, he said, coaches would tell him on deep routes, “Just run faster, Josh.”
That won’t work in the SEC.
“In college football, they’re faster than you,” he said. “Going from playing Loudon to playing Alabama, it’s a big difference.”
Smith played through a knee injury in 2013 that was only cleaned up by surgery in December. Even with a bum knee, he usually didn’t have problems getting open.
“That’s a positive,” he said.
Now comes the catching part. And for that, he wanted to be clear he was making no excuses.
“I don’t want that (excuse) out there,” he said. “My hands are not my knees.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.