Via UT Media Relations
For Tennessee sophomore Trey Smith, Saturday’s season opener was the long awaited conclusion of an offseason journey of unknowns.
The highly-touted offensive lineman missed all of spring practice following treatment for blood clots found in February. He was not cleared for contact in practice until after the halfway mark of fall camp. However, the 2017 Freshman All-American picked up right where he left off during the season opener. Smith and the rest of Tennessee’s offensive line helped pave the way for a 118-yard rushing performance from running back Tim Jordan.
“It was relieving ultimately because [I was] just finally doing what I love to do, not worrying about external issues and just getting out there and playing ball,” Smith said. “The most difficult part of the offseason was just patience. Realizing God’s plan and just letting it reveal itself and letting it work in my life.”
First-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt expects improvement from the sophomore as he continues to get more reps and game action under his belt following his offseason of uncertainty.
“I think Trey played hard,” Pruitt said after the game. “He obviously made some mistakes and probably things he will improve on just based on taking more reps, but he did compete hard so that’s positive, and I think he is only going to get better each week.
“Obviously, he is going to get to practice and improve and see more looks. He is used to playing with the guys beside him so he will get better each week.”
Despite having practiced with full contact just eight times during preseason practice, Smith was awarded with the starting left tackle spot for Saturday’s contest.
In addition to making his own return, Smith also helped provide guidance to newcomers along the Vols’ offensive line. Of Tennessee’s other four starting lineman, two (Alabama transfer center Brandon Kennedy and junior college guard Jahmir Johnson) were playing in their first game for the Orange and White, while another contributor – true freshman Jerome Carvin – played in his first collegiate game.
“I had that same experience last year, so I just told him ‘(Jerome) just calm down, it’s just like practice,'” Smith said. “I think (Brandon and Jahmir) played their tails off. They worked hard. We were well prepared for that situation and they did a great job.”
Despite the youth infusion on the offensive line, the Vols’ front allowed just two sacks on the day, and none after the first quarter. Though some numbers indicate reason for optimism, Smith is still seeking improvement as he settles back into his role of leading Tennessee’s offensive front.
“I could be a lot better. I’m still getting a lot of the rust out,” Smith said. “I’ve had about eight practices so it’s a little hard, especially for a position like offensive line, but just getting the rust out and just trying to be better with technique every day I step out there.
“Ultimately, we always want to get better. There are a lot of things we can fix and we need to go to the drawing board to fix them. Stepping forward we’re going to be better.”