Wiedmer: Falcons should promote Jacques Smith

Wiedmer: Falcons should promote Jacques Smith

October 20th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Chad Bumphis (15) is run out of bounds after a reception by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Jacques Smith (45) during their game in Jacksonville, Fla., in this Aug. 28, 2014, file photo.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The Atlanta Falcons again chose not to activate Jacques Smith for Sunday's 29-7 loss at Baltimore. The former Tennessee and Ooltewah High School standout has been on the Bad News Birds' practice squad all season, even as the team's defense has been pretty much defenseless at linebacker, Smith's position of choice.

Not that he's is complaining.

"I'm just glad to have a job," the 22-year-old said inside Atlanta's Georgia Dome locker room nine days ago, just after the Falcons' home loss to Chicago. "I'm very appreciative of this opportunity."

For most anyone who's ever played college football at the level Smith did as an important member of the Vols, it is indeed an opportunity of a lifetime. Practice squad players make a minimum of $6,300 a week, which means Smith should earn somewhere around $100,000 for the season. Every young adult should do so well his or her first year out of college.

"I do whatever they need me to do for that week's game -- offense, defense, whatever they need," he explained. "We give the starters whatever looks they need. My main role is still defense -- outside or inside linebacker -- but I've played fullback, too. I've even caught a couple of passes. It's fun."

He also caught perhaps more attention than he would have liked for his time in front of HBO's "Hard Knocks" cameras during training camp, when he was filmed getting into a shoving match with center Joe Hawley and later earned a personal foul for fighting during an exhibition game against the Tennessee Titans.

Smith apologized to his teammates for the fight and promised to better control his temper. But in the show's final episode, Falcons coach Mike Smith tells Jacques that his on-field temper was one reason he didn't make the 53-man roster.

"It was quite an experience," he said last week. "Quite different to see yourself on reality TV. All of it is real and raw. They filmed for hours and hours and hours. Crazy how much they cut out."

Yet even being cut from this year's active roster has been seen by young Smith as something of a blessing.

"I'm looking at this as my redshirt year in the NFL," he said. "There are so many great players here. I just look at this as my time to listen and learn from the coaches. I definitely feel like I can make this team next year."

What's perhaps been tougher is emotionally leaving behind his final season with the Vols and UT coach Butch Jones.

"I still talk to the D-linemen a couple of times a week," Smith said. "That's my family up there. They're still like my brothers, and it's kind of weird not being a part of that anymore."

Nor does he expect to see them in action the rest of the year, at least not within Neyland Stadium.

"Our bye week is an away game (at South Carolina)," Smith said. "So I don't know if I'll get a chance to get up there or not. But Coach Jones is doing a fabulous job with those young guys. You can see them getting better every week."

To that end, he was asked his thoughts on the team's 10-9 loss to Florida, the Vols' 10th straight to the Gators.

"I'd rather lose like that than the way we did my senior year," he said of that 31-17 defeat in Gainesville.

But if Smith didn't always have the success he craved on the field with the Vols, he believes all those seasons scrapping and clawing inside the nation's best conference have prepared him well to play for pay.

"I was fortunate to play in the SEC," said Smith, who now tips the scales at 255, up 15 pounds from his senior year with the Vols. "There is a difference in size at this level, but not that much difference in speed. Lots of similarities between here and the SEC."

There are more similarities with the Falcons and Vols these days than anyone would like. While Jones has UT back to where it's at least winning the games it should -- Utah State and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, for instance -- neither the Bad News Birds nor Clorox Orange is striking much fear into those higher up the food chain.

Neither team has won a road game and each team would now appear perilously close to at least a second straight losing season (five straight for UT), which would stretch the Vols' consecutive years without a bowl bid to four.

"Right now, I feel like the difference in (UT) and a team like Ole Miss is that they're capitalizing on their opportunities and we're not," said Smith a weekend before those words proved eerily prophetic in UT's 34-3 loss to the Rebels. "But we're going to be fine. It just takes time."

Jacques Smith has time. His current coach, Mike Smith, perhaps not so much. Given Jacques's feistiness in training camp, perhaps it's time for Coach Smith to trust Player Smith to breath some much needed fire and fury into these Bad News Birds.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com