July 6, 2008
Allen Park, Mich. (www.DetroitLions.com) - Courtesy of the DetroitLions.com
Getting Better Acquainted
Smith Working on Reads, Learning the Playbook and Enjoying his First NFL Offseason
By Chrissie Wywrot
In regards to rookies, the first offseason is usually evaluated with a grain of salt because they have yet to `put the pads on.'
Though they attend a rookie mini-camp following the NFL Draft, mandatory mini-camp and OTA sessions, it isn't until training camp that rookies actually show their stuff during padded two-a-days in hot, summer weather.
Running back Kevin Smith has impressed Lions' coaches with his reads and his speed thus far, but he falls into that category of `wait and see.'
"Once we get in pads, then I'll be able to give a better evaluation," said Running Backs Coach Sam Gash. "Right now, we're just trying to get the plays in and get them to know what they're supposed to do. We give them keys of how they're supposed to (run plays) and what they're supposed to be thinking about.
"Kevin is picking up everything well. He has a very high football IQ, I would say, because he understands schemes and systems really well."
Even before he set foot on a Detroit Lions' practice field, coaches were talking about Smith's vision.
"His vision is excellent to where he's going to find the crease," said Gash in late April.
But how are players supposed to work on their reads with non-padded practices?
Obviously, full-fledged blocking isn't an option during the offseason. Even though players can run through the motions of what they would be doing during a particular play, they aren't allowed to hit.
"I think you can work on (reads)," said Smith. "I think the better you can get them here with no pads on, it should be a little bit easier (with pads on) because you have a couple more guys going backwards when pads get on. I think if you can get (reads) down here, you should be fine when you put on pads."
Essentially, non-padded mini-camp practices and OTAs can be looked at as `walkthroughs.'
Gash expects his players to run full-speed so they are forced to react faster, even in a practice environment where collisions are not permitted.
"It gives backs feel of what's going to happen," he said. "That's what non-padded practices are. It's different, but you want run through untouched. You want to play, basically, flag football and that's the way you want to make your reads and we give keys so that they can do that.
"If they follow their keys, then they should be able to see, `yeah there should have been something there' or `no, that was a bad cut. It can't work like that.'"
Right now, Gash and the rest of the Lions' coaches are focused on preparing players for training camp.
There is no pressure to perform - no one is going to make the team in June - so working on fundamentals and memorizing plays are top priority.
"It's been a good experience for me," said Smith. "I think I've learned a lot more (than I already knew). I'm just starting to get the system down so I can play a little faster. I'm just having fun. It's OTAs, having fun, running around, meeting everybody - still learning my teammates and trying to get the job done."
Getting acquainted with new teammates is a reality of being a rookie. In some cases, veterans are welcoming and accommodating, but in other cases they can be threatened by new players.
For Smith, meeting the players within his position group has been a positive experience.
"I've gelled with players on the team, but as far as football-wise, Aveion (Cason) takes pretty good care of me," said Smith. "If he sees something that I do, he'll point it out. If he sees something that someone else does, he'll point it out. He just gives me great support and I lean on him.
"He's an older guy; he's been in the league about eight years so I just appreciate him helping me because he really does want to see me do (well). He helps me in that regard."
As a first-year running backs coach, Gash is also pleased with the interaction between his players.
Even though he was an NFL player for a significant period of time, his conversion to a coach has changed the lingo he uses and the way he sees things.
"Aveion has taken that `big brother' role, which is a role that I took with a lot of guys throughout my career," said Gash. "It's helping (Kevin) a lot. I feel very confident with him being able to talk to Kevin and give him whatever tools he needs and know he's getting the right tutelage.
"I think Kevin's very lucky that he has a guy like that."
Cason simply feels that he's doing what he's supposed to do.
"I mean, I've been rookie before," he said, "and I feel like all rookies need help. So I try to help him out as much as I can."