With positional tweak, Brandon Smith senses opportunity
Brandon Smith will enter his third season at Penn State with a renewed sense of urgency — and a new primary position.
"Definitely, the time is now as far as what I personally need to do," he said Tuesday morning.
Smith officially made the move to the Will linebacker spot before the start of spring practice, having played primarily within the Sam linebacker role during his first two seasons with the Nittany Lions.
Smith said his duties within the defense have changed significantly, and added that he thinks his familiarity with both the Will and Sam roles will help him stay on the field more in 2021.
"As far as my responsibility, as far as rushing the passer, doing whatever, it's just based on whatever we call in whatever situation," Smith said. "I know the playbook inside and out for both positions so I'm not that worried about my abilities as far as doing any of those responsibilities."
Smith occasionally played at Will linebacker in 2020, with those reps usually coming when the Nittany Lions put an extra defensive back on the field.
In that role, he finished the season with 51 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, an interception, a fumble recovery and two pass break-ups. Curtis Jacobs seems positioned to at least partially fill Smith's vacated Sam role, and Smith is confident in his ability to perform well.
"He has a defensive back type background in high school and even him previously playing football in the past before the time he was even recruited," Smith said. "His movements and everything definitely shows that he's meant for that position."
Smith was effective as a pass-rusher last season, coming away with a pair of sacks and three QB hurries. He was also an efficient tackler, missing on only 13.6 percent of his tackle attempts, according to Pro Football Focus.
Pass coverage was among the weakest aspects of his game, according to PFF, which gave him a grade of 50.2 in that area.
Penn State will hope that the move to Will linebacker will play to Smith's strengths more.
"For the Sam, you're more like a hybrid safety, I would say," Smith said. "...You're more so in coverage. You're not really in the run game as much, depending on the call.
"So me being in the box more, there's a lot of things that I had to look for as far as the different line movements and recognizing whether it's power-counter or any type of misdirection type stuff. So really those just have been the little differences between me being out of Sam and me being at Will now."
Smith said there's a variety of things he hopes to improve within his game before the beginning of the season.
Among them his the use of his hands at the point of contact — a skill he's been sharpening on with Penn State's defensive linemen.
"I've been working with the defense ends, the defensive linemen as far as me having my striking, working on my hands," he said. "That's really the biggest thing that I can take away that I can work on besides even getting more in depth with knowing my responsibility throughout the plays and everything."
The move, Smith feels, will have a positive impact in that it will give him more opportunities to make plays than he had previously.
Still, he views playmaking ability as something that comes with mindset, rather than circumstance and position on the field.
"It's just something that you have to want to do," he said.
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