Roquan Smith: ‘I’m back, feeling like I’m in my prime’

Roquan Smith couldn’t sit still while he sat out of contact drills during the spring.

Smith may have been sidelined with an upper body injury. He didn’t let that affect his ability to get after his teammates, however.

After a season in which he led Georgia with 95 tackles, Smith took it upon himself to be more of a vocal presence.

“I’m just one of those leaders that tells the guys to get going when they need it,” Smith said. “I love being vocal and being able to be there for my teammates so they can depend on me.”

It wasn’t something that came naturally to the Macon County native, who has been full-go in practice to start the preseason. As a freshman in 2015, Smith spent the year backing up eventual team MVP Jake Ganus. Smith emerged as a starter last season and started 10 of Georgia’s 13 games.

Smith’s intense effort has endeared himself to the coaching staff and his teammates. The more they grew to trust him, the more confident Smith felt in speaking up.

“As a sophomore, it was my first year really starting so I wasn’t quite sure about certain things here and there,” Smith said. “But after you get that year of experience then it’s like, hey, I’m one of the leaders on the defense.”

Head coach Kirby Smart offered a bit of evidence as to how Smith’s teammates have bought into his leadership.

Smart said that out of all the places he has coached at, which includes nine seasons at Alabama, Smith has been the only person to lead while injured on the sideline.

If a play during the spring didn’t run the way it was supposed to, Smith, unable to practice, would still get on his teammates and tell them to pick it up.

“We were getting our butts kicked early in spring practice and he was one of the guys confronting people,” Smart said. “I was very impressed with that. He’s continued that role because we (told him), ‘You have to be the leader whether you’re out there or not.’ He’s out there every day and he’s backing it up.”

When Smith was cleared for summer workouts, Smart warned him it would be tough to get through the first day.

Even so, Smith pushed until a breaking point, wanting to catch up to the conditioning of his teammates. It’s yet another example of why Smart has routinely singled out Smith for his work ethic.

“There was a day we conditioned in the summer that he was just first coming back — what we say is you get to a point of failure,” Smart said. “He got to failure real quick because he had not done anything. He didn’t shy away from it. So many kids shy away from failure because they don’t want to get to that point. Not Roquan. He hit it head-on.”

By the end of summer conditioning, Smith didn’t want to run sprints with the linebackers. He chose to run with the receivers and defensive backs since they had faster times to hit.

“He caught up quick,” Smart said. “I’m excited about where he is. He has to do it with consistency but effort has never been a question for that young man.”

Smith enters his junior season looking to live up to a high expectation placed upon him. At SEC Media Days, Smith earned a spot on the preseason All-SEC first team and figures to be one of the conference’s better inside linebackers.

Smith said he began to grasp Georgia’s new defense throughout the 2016 season. As a junior, and in the second year of Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s scheme, Smith said he no longer has to think about what’s called on the field.

“Going into this year, a lot more things have slowed down,” Smith said. “I’m back, feeling like I’m in my prime. It’s like my style.”

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