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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Busy August Awaits Smith

Twenty scholarship freshmen will be learning the ropes of college football when Georgia starts fall practice in August, but only one of them will be carrying around two playbooks.

Of course, Branden Smith isn't complaining. He's never been one to waste any of his extraordinary athletic ability. In high school, he played wide receiver, cornerback and returned kicks. In the offseason, he ran track and even played soccer just to keep in shape. So at Georgia, he figures he'd be bored if he only had one position to learn. Still, the idea of playing on both sides of the ball as a true freshman does seem a bit daunting.

"It's going to be difficult at first. In high school, we don't really have a playbook," Smith said. "You're just learning from the coaches. I'm moving up to the big leagues, and with that step, I've got to step my game up. And playing both sides, I've got to do two times as much."

After four years learning the intricacies of playing wide receiver, Michael Moore knows better than to expect a freshman to master the job, even if that's his only responsibility. But for Smith, wideout will be his part-time gig, with his primary focus on cornerback.

With just six scholarship receivers on the roster, however, Georgia will be in need of Smith's services on offense at some point, and head coach Mark Richt has already told his new freshman to expect to see action on both sides of the ball.

Still, when Smith finds his way onto the field on offense, Moore is pretty sure the coaching staff will do all they can to keep things as vanilla as possible, then simply let Smith use his athleticism to do the rest on his own.

"I don't think you can really ask anybody to learn two positions," Moore said, "but if they do decide to put him there, I'm sure they'll put a small package in there for him rather than ask him to learn the whole offense."

Beyond the reduced playbook and the lightning-quick speed, Smith said he has one other big asset on his side as he tries to learn receiver -- the man on the other side of the field.

"Right now, if I do play receiver, I'm going to be learning from A.J. Green who is one of the best receivers out there," Smith said. "So that's a good thing."

Green should provide the perfect model for success on offense, but the beauty of playing both sides of the ball is that lessons from top-notch wide receivers can also help him out on defense.

As a cornerback, you're always one step behind the man you're covering. After all, he knows what he's about to do, and the cornerback is simply trying to keep pace. But after learning the position from Green one day, then covering him the next, Smith thinks he'll have a leg up on any other receivers he might come across this season.

"That's one reason why Champ Bailey was one of the best in the game because he played offense and defense," Smith said. "Playing offense, you find tips that receivers do and playing defense you can get a step ahead of the offensive player when you know all the moves he's going to make."

Of course, all of that is still a long way away. Bailey didn't turn into a two-way star right off the bat, and Smith knows there will be a lot of obstacles he'll have to hurdle before he's hauling in touchdowns and interceptions in the same game. But it's a challenge he said he's ready to undertake.

"It's all about just staying focused, and playing the game of football is just what I do," Smith said. "I like doing it, so it's not going to be any problem."


Lee Munger said...

This is awesome to hear, i wait eagerly to see what he can do!

When does fall workouts start again? I'm sure not soon enough!

David Hale said...

First week in August. Not sure if it'll be Saturday or Monday though.