KNOXVILLE-Former Ooltewah High School all-state football player Jacques Smith had some shining moments as a freshman backup defensive end for the University of Tennessee during the 2010 season. The Times Free Press caught up with him for a few moments after practice earlier this week.
Q: What are you up to weight-wise, and what's this offseason been for you?
A: "Weight-wise I'm about 245 now. The offseason's gone really well for myself individually and the team. More from the team perspective, you can just see that it was a lot of young people here and I'm just seeing us grow and mesh together even more. We're just becoming a really good unit."
Q: Do you feel like this is a really, really big spring for you, given what's happened to Ben [Martin] and his injury leaving you guys a little bit thin at the defensive end?
A: "I really think it's big for all of our defensive ends and not just me. I feel like all of us have to step up - me, Corey [Miller], Willie Bohannon, Rae Sykes; we moved Steven Fowlkes back to end. I really feel like if all of us can just put our little two cents into the game and at least go out there and four or five good, hard plays and keep the rotation going, we can tear down the teams like Florida who just out-depth us. We have really good, experienced depth, and I mean I can't wait to see how the season unfolds."
Q: What about for you? What's the biggest thing you've got to do this spring?
A: "For me, probably keep weight on, keep growing mentally, physically and just keep learning the game every day. Like today, Coach [Justin] Wilcox (the defensive coordinator) said in our meeting to just increase 2 percent. That's all you need to do, get better 2 percent each day. It doesn't have to be 100, it doesn't have to be 50 percent - just make sure you get 2 percent each day, and that's what I'm really going to try to focus on.
"Last year, whenever I had bad days and I'm like, 'Wow.' I really worried about all my mistakes instead of the things that I improved on that day, because every day you come out here you improve on things. I just need to make sure that I'm improving on something at least 2 percent, and I think it'll better my game."
Q: Coach [Derek] Dooley in talking to the media [Monday] mentioned that the biggest part of this spring was getting some of you guys going from freshmen to sophomores to go from being talented freshmen who make a play here or there to becoming consistent, every-down SEC players. How has he challenged you guys with that?
A: "He hasn't challenged me specifically, but it's everybody's challenge who came here, you know who decided to come here especially during the [Lane] Kiffin ordeal. We came here to get Tennessee back on that pedestal, on that spotlight where it's supposed to be. And it hasn't been there, and that's what everybody's here to do - to get Tennessee back on the top. That's been my main my goal since I was in high school and wishing to play here, and it's still my main goal now, to get to the SEC championship. And wherever the road follows after that, we're going to do it."
Q: Lance Thompson is your new coach on the defensive line. How's it been with him and how much of an adjustment is it with him in that new spot?
A: "It's a really great experience. He's a great coach and I'm really glad to be working with him. I'm looking forward to the year. I'm learning so much right now, and it's just increasing my learning capability with D-line and stuff and learning different trends and things like that. I'm really excited."
Q: How is your role going to change, or do you have any idea at this point if you'll get moved around on the field a little bit more?
A: "As of right now I'm just wherever I best fit in the defense. I think that's just like with everyone, wherever we fit best in the puzzle piece of our defense."
Q: This is a young team and you've got a lot of young guys. Where do you find yourself in terms of stepping up and being a leader on defense?
A: "Stepping up and being a leader - I really feel like I've just got to fit into my role. Last year it was that third man coming off the bench, just getting at least two good pass rushes in. This year I really don't know what it is, but I just want go out there and play as hard as I can for my team, and hopefully we can win some games."