Rod Smith ‘Totally Different Guy’ This Offseason
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — “I don’t know what the kid was thinking,” Carlos Hyde said shaking his head back and forth.
Ohio State’s starting tailback had seen his teammate the night before. He had expected to see him again on the team flight in the morning, but when the plane lifted off without Rod Smith onboard, Hyde and the rest of his OSU teammates weren’t quite sure what to think.
“When he didn’t make the trip to the Gator Bowl,” Hyde said, “I was like maybe they'll try to get him down here. But that didn't work out. I don't know what happened.”
The exact details of what kept Smith from being with his teammates in Jacksonville aren’t all that important now. What mattered was the mentality that caused a young player like Smith, once a highly recruited back out of Indiana, to put himself in that type of position; especially on the eve of a coaching change that would bring about the demand for more structure and accountability.
Players who acted like grown-ass men were treated as such; those who didn’t, well they didn’t last long in Urban Meyer’s new system. Smith almost became one of those casualties, but his decision to buy in to what Meyer and his new staff were preaching has the junior tailback in a much different position this offseason.
Stan Drayton coaches up Rod Smith
Photo by Jim Davidson
“He's a totally different guy right now,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said this spring.
“He's locked in. He's focused. He understands too that his timeline is coming, he's got two more years to play.”
One more of those seasons will be played behind Hyde, who opted to return for his senior season in Columbus, but the Buckeyes are looking for new ways to get Smith involved in the offense. They even dabbled with a loaded Diamond Formation that would put the two of them on the field at the same time, but there are worse things than being the No. 2 tailback at Ohio State.
“He was really having a really good spring. He really was,” Drayton said of Smith, who missed the final week of spring ball with a minor concussion.
“He has improved his awareness. He's year-two in this system now, so he's playing faster because of the knowledge of the system.”
Drayton even said that Smith was a “tempo setter” for the Buckeyes during spring practice before he suffered a head injury during Student Appreciate Day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
He missed the spring game because of the injury, but Drayton had seen enough during the first few weeks of camp to name Smith as the clear-cut No. 2 back ahead of youngsters Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball.
It might not seem like a big step, but it was an important one for Smith if he wants to see the field this fall. The Buckeyes will add another versatile running back to the mix when freshman Ezekiel Elliott joins the squad this summer, but Smith just has intangibles those other backups don’t have.
“He was a physical presence out there, so I'm really excited where Rod Smith is right now,” Drayton said of the 6-3, 235-pound back out of Fort Wayne, Ind.
“He's a young man that's had to overcome some things to get to the point where he is right now, it makes it even that much more rewarding for him and myself.”
After rushing for over 6,600 yards and 66 touchdowns at Paul Harding High School, Smith has carried the football a total of 61 times in 20 games over the last two seasons. He racked up 215 yards on the ground last season, averaging a robust 6.7 yards per carry.
He developed some trust with the new coaching staff, and Smith took most of the first-string reps during the spring as Hyde was being held out of action. Now they need him to do more of that in the fall.
“He's got to improve his value to his football team, and that's important to him,” Drayton added.
“I don't know if that was always important to him when he was at a more immature state. He's grown a lot and I'm excited about Rod Smith.”
He has come a long way from that empty seat on the plane ride to Jacksonville.
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