NFL Draft 101 recently had an opportunity to talk with one of the 2011 NFL Draft's top tight ends, Lee Smith out of Marshall. Smith was a two and half year starter with the Thundering Herd who earned All-Conference USA and Academic Conference USA honors for the 2010 season. Known for his talents as a blocker, Smith also accounted for 38 catches for 358 yards and 3 touchdowns this past season.
Smith's career got off to a rocky start when he was dismissed from the University of Tennessee football team due to a DUI charge prior to his freshman season. Looking for a fresh start he transferred to Marshall. When asked how he overcame this early challenge, Smith stated "I learned the hard way there are consequences for every action whether it be positive or negative and a lot of kids have a Superman mentality at that point in their life and it kind of smacked me in the face but ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I got married my freshman year in college and we had my son the next year and I was just forced to grow up. I had a family to raise, a family to feed, a family to take care of. I wasn't able to just join together with three or four of my teammates and rent an apartment somewhere in Huntington. It was great for me and it was a lot of pressure and I'm not sure I would suggest it to anyone else but for me myself it was great and it allowed me to grow up I liked I needed to."
When asked how he balanced the demands of being a husband, father, athlete and student (named C-USA All-Academic Team in 2010), he responded, "It was great for me. I would tell everyone if my son tries to do the same thing I did I would try to advise him otherwise. For me personally, my wife is great, she's the best. She makes sure everything was taken care of as far as the kids were concerned, as far as the house was concerned. I just made sure that I became the best football player I could be but number one what's most important to me is being the best father, being the best husband and I took my schoolwork very seriously. I know that football doesn't last forever and I am going to have to something once football is over so school was very important and I just tried to take football and school as seriously as I could and to be honest with you it was my wife who made the rest very easy on me." He also noted, he "received two degrees from Marshall."
While discussing his game, he considered his greatest strength being "the Y-tight end. A lot of NFL teams throw an extra tackle in the game during running situations....I feel like if you have a tight end that can get in there and compete in the running game against a 280 pound defensive end in the NFL this day and age that does nothing but help your football team." On the flipside, the one aspect of his game he needs to further refine is "the pass game. I'm obviously not a 240 pound H-back but at the same time I am excited about getting the coaching I'm going to receive in the next few months in the NFL. I'm not the biggest, strongest guy anymore, this isn't college football, everyone is big, strong and fast so just take the coaching in the pass game and keep getting better."
Switching gears, we talked about teammate Mario Harvey (linebacker) who is also going through the draft process. Smith described him as "a very special player. He's the most explosive guy that I've played against to this point. He can flat out run, he's a good kid, leader. I think regardless of what happens in this draft that Mario is definitely talented enough to play in the NFL."
Wrapping up our discussion on his college career, I asked him to recall his favorite football moment to which he responded, "I have a three year old little boy and for my Senior Game at Marshall, he ran out of the tunnel with me, just me and him alone"
After establishing himself as one of the best blocking tight ends in the college game, Smith was invited to play in the 2010 Senior Bowl and experience Smith described as an "opportunity to be coached by an NFL coaching staff, just to get that experience and be coached by guys who can let you know exactly what to expect in the next few months". During the course of the week, Smith showcased his blocking prowess while demonstrating soft hands as an intermediate passing option. Realizing he is not a threat down the seam and his future is as in-line blocking tight end he noted coaches told him he's a "Y-tight end, the bigger tight end in this draft class" and "to just to keep getting after people in the run game and the blocking game. Take coaching and just work hard."
His frame (Senior Bowl measurements 6 '5 7/8", 269 lbs) and footwork as a blocker had some in Mobile questioning whether a move to tackle was a possibility. When given the opportunity to respond to a position change, he stated, "I've heard it my whole life, my father (a former NFL offensive lineman) made that move. It's always a question that comes up, I'm 270 pounds, 25-30 pounds away from that tackle mark I guess you could say, but it seemed like most of the comments were tight end based as far as the Senior Bowl was concerned. Most of the coaches I talked to pretty much liked me at tight end but personally whatever it takes to compete and contribute in the National Football League. Whatever it takes for me to be able to play for as long as I possibly can in the league is what I will do. If I need to move to tackle I'll move to tackle. If I stay at tight end I'll stay at tight end."
As for Combine and Draft preparations Lee is training at IMG Academy in Sarasota, Florida. "There are about 20 of us down here. We get after it all day every day. As far as the work it has definitely been put in. As far as my goals at the Combine, I feel like I just want to prove that I can move and be successful in the pass game. My hands are there and that I am not just a blocking tight end."
We wish Lee the best of luck at the Combine and on Draft Day.