I sat down with Jason Smith after the Rams’ OTA (organized team activity) session on Friday. The former second overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, who was picked to play left tackle to protect the quarterback’s blindside, moved to right tackle after his rookie season to make way for another young athletic tackle, Rodger Saffold. Perhaps more troubling for the Baylor product: a mounting injury history that has sent up many a red flag.
Smith originally signed a six-year contract, $61 million deal ($33 million guaranteed). Having not really lived up to his draft slot, he was asked to restructure his contract for the 2012 season, which will affect the remaining years of his contract (through 2014). He spent the latter part of 2011 rehabbing a MTBI (mild trauma brain injury), or concussion, which he suffered vs. the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7.
“Knowing the situation at hand, brain- and neck-related issues is something you don’t take lightly,” Smith said about the situation. “Just the understanding of the expectation I had for myself, if you look at it on paper, I haven’t met them. Going back to being drafted high, the level of which I played and the experience that I’ve gotten, if you just look at it I haven’t met it.
“One thing I did learn: that no man can control injuries. God has that power. Based on that, I understood it was something the Lord had me go through.”
Having gone through a major concussion and spinal contusion, Smith was introspective when asked how he has educated himself about the future risks he may face.
“The things I had to look at where the simple things. How am I living my life, number one. I’m living righteously. My helmet, what helmet did I use in the past. I was sitting in my office at home and saw my Baylor helmet. I realized I had a different helmet on. I said, ‘Hey, can I get the other helmet?’ Just stuff like that. I put a different mouth piece in, let me put one in the top instead of the bottom.”
Smith is also busy refining his technique under the tutelage of a new offensive line coach, Paul Boudreau Sr.
“Coach told me I’m not using my hands, so I’m focusing on my hands. For guys who played my position that didn’t have concussions, (they) played well with their hands. What he is doing differently to help me is he took me and analyzed me, looked at the things I’m doing good, and why I did them good, and when he got to the things I was doing bad, he just gave me the list and said here is the list – let’s correct it.
“Me being who I am, I took the list and started from the ground up, with my feet. I asked myself at what point am I getting myself in trouble and at what point I’m making myself vulnerable. Coach said, ‘It’s your hands, your hands. You’re blinking when punching, you’re blinking on contact.’ These are the little things I didn’t know I was doing. He put it right in front of me and said here, here is your problem.”
Boudreau, however, is far from the only individual on the coaching staff entrusted with supervising Smith’s progress. According to the offensive lineman, head coach Jeff Fisher has left no doubt in terms of the point person at Rams Park.
“What I’ve noticed about Coach Fisher is his attention to detail and his know-how … he is kind of different. He isn’t playing around, you can tell. Coach Fisher is making it fun for the young, the new and the veteran players.”
Smith list of personal goals for 2012 is lengthy, but one that is filled with realistic possibilities.
“It’s everything I have not done, to do it, and everything I want to do, to do it. On the field, playing football, not making the game harder than it already is. It’s the NFL – it’s hard. Like Mike (Jordan) says, just do it. No thinking, no wondering, no worrying about the other stuff – just do it, line up, study your plays, know where to go, play with your hands and your feet, keep your head out of stuff, wear your mouthpiece and really keep Sam (Bradford) clean. I’m a tackle and that’s what I really, really look forward to seeing out of myself, and I’m not concerned about anybody else’s thoughts – just my own. In the run game, be where I’m supposed to be, move my guy around and make holes for Jack (Steven Jackson), get down field, keep guys off him.”
Coach Fisher, general manager Les Snead and his teammates are all counting on Smith to stay healthy, play at a high level and, yes, protect Bradford at all costs. As his position coach told him, forget leading with your hat and play with more UOH (use of hands); redirect the defender. Time will tell if that works, but there’s no question that a large portion of the Rams’ success hinges on this young man playing well and remaining healthy.