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Bigger Smith rising to top of solid OT class

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Recent posts by Michael Blunda

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Posted Feb. 25, 2011 @ 7:45 p.m. ET
By Michael Blunda

Updated 10:30 a.m. ET, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS — It's not a rule written anywhere, but it may as well be: For an offensive tackle to be taken in the first round of the NFL draft, he must be 300 pounds.

In fact, 307 pounds is more like it. Not once in the past three drafts has a tackle been drafted in Round One who weighed less than that magic number.

With that in mind, maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that when Tyron Smith weighed in at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday, this was the figure that popped up on the scale: 307. What may come as a shock are the other measurements that Smith produced: 36 3/8-inch arms and 11-inch hands.

"It was tough to find shirts that were long enough to fit my arms," Smith said Friday.

By the numbers, he's an ideal offensive tackle.

But that wasn't always the case for the 6-foot-5 USC product. During his three years with the Trojans, Smith played at anywhere between 280 and 290 pounds — not exactly the size you would expect from a starting tackle at a premier college program. While playing at that weight allowed him to move quickly in order to get out and block in space, he realized he couldn't get by simply on athleticism in the pros.

So Smith decided to reshape his body in the months leading up to the Combine, adding roughly 20 pounds to get up to a playing weight more suitable for an NFL tackle. He did so by changing his diet, eliminating McDonald's and eating three healthy meals every day.

"I surprised myself when I hit the 300 mark," Smith said. "I didn't think I was gonna get higher than that."

Although his potential alone had him ranked No. 2 at his position in Pro Football Weekly's 2011 Draft Guide — not to mention the only underclassman OT prospect ranked in PFW's top 30 — the Moreno Valley, Calif., native knew that bulking up gave him a legitimate chance to be the first tackle taken this April.

At least one person who knows him well agrees.

"Tyron's a freak athlete," said C Kris O'Dowd, a teammate of Smith's for the past three seasons at USC. "He's a phenomenal athlete. The great thing is he's put on a lot of weight, he's up in the 300s, where he needs to be. It's unfortunate that he had that knee issue, that he's not gonna be able to perform here. But I can tell you what — at the pro day, a lot of people's heads are gonna turn."

The knee issue O'Dowd is referring to is the scope Smith underwent following USC's season. Smith officially decided on Saturday that he would not participate in any Combine events other than the bench press, almost certainly because of the knee surgery.

Smith's knee isn't the only concern that NFL clubs may have with him. The converted tight end played almost solely at right tackle in college but projects to the critical left side in the pros, meaning he'll have to transition to a new position and adjust his technique. His hand placement also needs improving, as does his footwork. But even with plenty of question marks, there might be nothing stopping Smith from being the first tackle taken this April.

Projected to go at No. 20 in PFW draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki's latest mock draft, Smith's standout Thursday at the Combine surely will send his stock skyrocketing. With Smith still just 20 years old, plenty of general managers are likely to fall in love with his upside. When it's all said and done, it wouldn't be a bombshell if Smith lands in the top 10 on draft night.

It's not only potential with Smith, however. A look at the tape from the Trojans' 2010 campaign will show his dominance over even the best of competition lining up across from him. Smith said that he didn't allow a sack all season, even when going up against Cal DE Cameron Jordan, a likely first-rounder come April.

"I controlled that whole game with him," said Smith of his meeting with Jordan, a 48-14 USC triumph.

In what's shaping up to be a solid group of rookie tackles, there's at least one who thinks he should come off the board before Smith, however.

"I'm physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there," said Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, PFW's third-ranked OT. "That's why I'm the No. 1 tackle out there."

PFW's No. 1 tackle, Anthony Castonzo of Boston College, wouldn't bite when asked to respond to Carimi's comments.

"That's his opinion," said Castonzo. "It's what we've put on film. I'm not going to stand up here and say I'm better than him or he's better than me. It's for the scouts to decide, based on what we've put on film. This is just kind of the capper."

While Smith didn't weigh in on where he fits in the 2011 OT class, he did describe what kind of player a team drafting him would get.

"A high-effort-type guy," he said. "Basically speed and power both, and finishing on every play."

Those are certainly traits that any team would love in a blind-side protector, as no club wants to see its quarterback demolished because of a left tackle's poor effort. But odds are it's going to take more than just talk from Smith to convince some general managers that he deserves to be taken over more accomplished options like Carimi and Castonzo. Despite his freakish measurables, he still has to prove that he's healthy and can shift sides on the line — something he won't be able to do in Indianapolis.

It puts a lot of pressure on Smith to perform at USC's pro day. Yet, assuming he shines as most expect, teams should be more than persuaded that he can be an NFL starter for years to come.

Once he becomes a first-round pick, finding shirts that fit shouldn't be too difficult.

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