ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia sophomore Roquan Smith is fighting for a starting job at inside linebacker, and it certainly can’t hurt that coach Kirby Smith had lauded him for his effort.
Smith is battling for the starting jobs with junior Reggie Carter and fellow sophomore Natrez Patrick. Patrick suffered what looked to be a leg injury during Georgia’s open practice Saturday, which has enabled Smith to work some with the first-team defense.
While Patrick is out, Smith is trying to make the most of his opportunity. That means going full out all the time.
"I just figure that’s the way the game needs to be played," Smith said. "I don’t take anything for granted."
Smith says he knew the game needs to be played with full effort since he first put the pads on. He says his family has been a huge inspiration for how he approaches every-day life, whether it's school, workouts or jobs; Smith worked one summer as a welder.
"My family always told me to go hard with whatever you do," Smith said. "I believe in that and always will."
Smith also had an interesting road to get to Athens. He committed to UCLA on National Signing Day in 2015, but news broke that Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich – who had been Smith's recruiter for the Bruins – might be leaving. Smith held off on signing and Ulbrich left the next day to become the Atlanta Falcons' linebacker coach. Smith, from Montezuma (Ga.) Macon County, then reopened his recruitment and eventually chose the Bulldogs.
Smith played in 12 games last season as a reserve, finishing with 20 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
He says his one year of experience and having more familiarity with his surroundings has helped. It also helps that he knows the playbook better.
"Last year, coming in, I had no clue during fall camp," Smith said. "I had no clue what was what. Now, as things have started to slow down, I feel I can play faster."
Even with the change at defensive coordinator from Jeremy Pruitt to Mel Tucker, Smith says the system is largely the same.
A different inside linebacker has led the Bulldogs in tackles in each of the past four seasons – Alec Ogletree in 2012, Ramik Wilson in '13, Amarlo Herrera in '14 and Jake Ganus last season. Smith would like to be that guy this fall.
"The inside linebackers are always considered the captains of the defense," Smith said. "You got to know the defense inside and out so you can get other people lined up."
(You can follow Dan Mathews on Twitter @DanMathewsATL)
© 2016, Dan Mathews. All rights reserved.
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