Last Chance for Smith to Salvage Career
By Patrick Murphy
Rod Smith’s career has been a mystery.
As a four-star recruit out of Indiana, the running back’s size and athleticism drew comparisons to former Ohio State Heisman winner Eddie George, yet Smith has not had anything close to resembling the career of 27.
The 6’3”, 238-pound back has spent the majority of his time in Columbus watching from the sidelines. After redshirting in 2010, Smith rushed for 116 yards and one touchdown as a freshman but missed the flight to the Gator Bowl. The rest is history.
Smith has been in constant stall since then and he is just as unsure of the reasons as fans.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I really can’t say,” he said when asked what has held him back.
"That’s the coaches’ decision. At the end of the day, I have never not wanted to be on the field. All I can do is keep playing my game, keep listening to them, getting better every day.”
Running backs coach Stan Drayton may not be able to identify all the reasons Smith has failed to reach his potential, but he did point to a few correctable issues that have slowed the running back down.
“Rod being a [6’3”] and a half back, a little bit tougher for him,” he said last week.
“Everything’s longer, the arms are longer, that’s why you saw a little bit of a struggle with ball security early in his career. He didn’t break a whole lot of tackles, that’s all because he didn’t know how to drop his hips. It’s a lot tougher to drop your hips when you’re 6’2” and a half then if you were 5’10”, 5’11”.
“Now he’s starting to grow into that body and learn how to use it and create power angles for himself and it’s starting to show in his execution. He’s really on the right track, I’m excited for Rod.”
So bigger is not always better, until bigger learns how to use his bigger better..
With the departure of Carlos Hyde, who last year became Urban Meyer’s first 1,000 yard back, the senior is looking to capitalize on his gifts and seize his last opportunity to make a positive impact at Ohio State.
“Just go out there and compete,” Smith said about what he’s doing this spring. “Trying to get this number one spot.”
As a senior, Smith realizes his role can be bigger than just the starting running back. Hyde was not only a great ball carrier for the Buckeyes but also an emotional leader. He helped bring along the younger players, if by nothing else than by example. Smith is embracing his opportunity to be a leader.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I'm focused on trying to get this starting spot, but at the same time being a big brother to these young guys,” he said.
“For the first time I'm the oldest guy in the room, so I've got to help out and keep them out of trouble.”
This has not gone unnoticed by his position coach who believes this is one of the more difficult things for a struggling player to do.
“I definitely see him trying to [be a leader], I really do,” Drayton said of Smith.
“Any time you have a young man who can self-reflect on his mistakes, like he did with you, in front of his teammates now. It’s easy to do with [the media], it isn’t easy to do in front of his brothers and that’s what he’s doing right now in front of his brothers. And to me that’s leadership.
“He’s just standing in from of them, ‘hey, these are the mistakes that I made and you’re not going to make them. You know why? Because I’m not going to let you.’ That’s the kind of special stuff that goes on in our room.”
Smith understands talent can be wasted if players don’t do things he the right way. After all, he has lived it, watching other guys make the plays. He doesn’t want to see that happen with his younger teammates.
Despite working with the younger players, Smith is not giving up on his chance to be the man. He believes that this can be his year.
“I definitely feel like I've put in my time,” he said.
“I'm working, I've been all winter. I've been working hard, trying to compete. I feel like I'm in top-notch shape, the best shape I've ever been. I feel like this could be a good year for me.”
It is still a mystery why Smith hasn’t made a bigger impression, but with some players it just takes time. Whether learning to use his rare physical gifts to their most beneficial or becoming a man, Smith has matured into a player that could make an impact where a there is currently a hole.
“We know we’ve got big shoes to fill,” he said.
“You come out here, you watch us play. You can see our back field as a whole, what it’s going to be, this season, this spring. We're gonna make a lot noise, you’re gonna hear us. We’re not gonna be unheard.”
Smith hopes this year, he’s making the noise for all the right reasons.