<strong>KNOXVILLE —</strong> On an 11-man defense, Tennessee defensive end Jacques Smith has responsibilities on each and every play, whether it’s keeping contain or rushing the opposing quarterback.
It’s a 12-player group where the senior may have an even more important role.
The former Ooltewah High School standout is part of what the Volunteers call their “player staff,” a dozen-man group that’s elected by the team and serves as a conduit between the team and the coaching staff.
The smiling Smith equated it to the NFL Players’ Association.
“Basically we make the decisions based off whether it’s the dress of the day, if it’s something in the change of schedule or what we eat, and maybe even the uniform,” he said after Sunday afternoon’s practice.
“We sit down with coach [UT coach Butch] Jones for about 15 minutes before and after every team meeting, and we just talk to him and get feedback on what the coaches are saying and what the team is saying. We just come down [and] state the views, our point of view of going through the program and theirs as well. It definitely helps out with problems within the team.”
For Jones, the staff serves perhaps an even greater importance.
“If you’re elected to our player staff, that’s the highest honor and responsibility any individual could have in our football program,” he said. “They’re elected by their peers, and they’re going to have to make difficult choices and decisions. They’re the individuals that they picked to lead them.
“It’s not a popularity contest. It’s a leadership position, and everywhere we’ve been, the player staff have really made an impact from [tailback] Isaiah Pead at Cincinnati to [receiver] Antonio Brown at Central Michigan. The player staff is instrumental in their development, it’s a big component of it and it’s a huge responsibility.”
The staff also plays a role in player discipline. Tennessee utilized a similar player leadership group under its previous coaching regime. Smith was on last year’s group, and he’s one of four defensive linemen on this one.
“It’s just a special opportunity for us to be able to lead,” he said. “Especially as seniors, it’s super critical. These are your last moments as a Vol, and you want to make everything special and you want to do everything to the best of your ability. That’s what all those guys are trying to do this year.
“It’s so great to have them on the staff and be part of something special like that and really just be recognized by your teammates. They see you as leaders as well, and it’s just an accolade. You’re so thankful for it that you want to do whatever you can for the betterment of the team.”
The 6-foot-2, 243-pounder represented Tennessee at SEC media days last month and said he’s trying to improve his own production — he’s made 55 tackles and registered 4.5 sacks in 55 career games — while increasing his own leadership role.
“Everything I do,” he said, “I’m thinking about it being the Tennessee standard and [living] up to it. It’s something we established this summer and something that shouldn’t be broken that was broken during the past transitions of coaching staffs. Coach Jones has inspired us and brought [it] back to us, and it’s something that we don’t want to lose.
“As a senior class, there’s a challenge sitting on all our shoulders, and that challenge is bringing Tennessee back. … Seniors in the past years have represented this university and held the standard for their teammates. That’s something we want to get accomplished this year.”
<em>Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.</em>