Tennessee senior left guard Trey Smith has a lengthy list of accomplishments during his time in Knoxville.
The 6-foot-6, 330-pounder has a whopping 31 career starts, shows a passion for community service and is rated by Pro Football Focus as the top returning run blocker in the Southeastern Conference. The former five-star signee out of Jackson, Tennessee, was pegged by CBS this week as the projected 16th overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft, but there is one thing he hasn't been able to master.
Smith and a normal start to a college football season just haven't mixed.
"This has probably been the weirdest camp I have ever been a part of," Smith said this week on a Zoom call. "Camp has always been an everyday thing, but how we're doing it now and it being more spaced out with the season getting pushed back has helped out a lot as far as development and being able to watch film and get better at certain things."
Smith's first preseason at Tennessee involved the whirlwind of adapting to the college game, which he certainly accomplished by becoming the first true freshman to start at left tackle for the Volunteers in more than 30 years. The discovery of blood clots in his lungs put his status in question before the start of his sophomore and junior seasons, and the coronavirus outbreak in March has resulted in the current guidelines that are affecting Smith and his teammates.
Despite the practices being more spaced out as the Vols prepare for next week's season opener at South Carolina, Smith's workload in workouts is much more substantial.
"Last year, I only practiced two times the entire year in full-pad practices, and one actually counted for the bowl game in Jacksonville," Smith said. "I've been able to practice a lot more full pads, so I'm a lot further along than I was this time last year in terms of my skills and development. I am very thankful, and I thank God for that."
Smith led Tennessee with 55 knockdown blocks as a freshman in 2017, when he played both guard and tackle, and he started the first seven games of the 2018 season at left tackle before a resurfacing of the blood clots ended his season. Last season, he did not allow a single sack and was ranked by PFF among the nation's top guards during the back half of the schedule.
His achievements to this point have occurred under three different offensive coordinators, but Jim Chaney has returned for a second year in that role, and Smith is loving the stability that has provided.
"I think it's made a huge difference," Smith said. "I'm actually just playing naturally and doing things without fully thinking them out. It sounds weird, but it's first time I've had this happen since high school."
Smith is motivated by multiple areas in which he needs to improve — pad level, leverage and avoiding overextending or lunging too much in pass protection. He even describes his situation as "knocking off the rust," given that he basically lost last year from a practice standpoint.
Every day seems to produce more confidence for Smith, and that's what helps combat yet another unique start to a season.
"I came back to Tennessee for a reason — to prove myself and to prove that I can play at a high level consistently," Smith said. "It was not really a hard decision."
Lowe enters portal
Redshirt freshman tight end Jackson Lowe has entered the NCAA transfer portal and is no longer listed on Tennessee's roster. The 6-4, 249-pounder came to Knoxville from Georgia's Cartersville High School, where he was a teammate of current Clemson junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence.