Mr. Versatility: Smith does it all on defense
In other sports, like baseball or even basketball, the guys who can play multiple positions whenever needed -- the utility men -- get plenty of hype. Every baseball team has one. Guys like Miguel Cairo, Luis Sojo and Jose Oquendo carved out lengthy careers on their ability to be able to play anywhere. In basketball they're known as swingmen. Even in football, the offensive players who can lineup at either running back or receiver, then multiply their value by returning punts and kicks grab the headlines.
On defense? Sure, there are defensive backs who can return kicks and linebackers who play special teams or maybe lineup at tight end for a gadget play. But it's players like Johnathon Smith who are truly indispensable.
Smith, a third-year sophomore from Camp Hill, Pa., can play pretty much anywhere on defense. A running back in high school, he was recruited by UConn as a linebacker. He's worked at all three linebacker spots since arriving at Storrs in 2004. He's also worked at defensive end, both at the "bandit" slot as well as nickelback, which made him equally adept at rushing the quarterback and defending against the pass. That experience made the transition back to linebacker smoother. He backed up Danny Lansanah at the weakside spot last season, but saw considerable game action anyway. Oh, Smith is also a monster on special teams, where he made many of his 49 tackles in 2005.
When Smith got on the field last season as a redshirt freshman, he seemed to be everywhere. He made two starts when other linebackers were injured, one against Rutgers when he recorded 15 tackles. He made six tackles at Georgia Tecjh, nine against Army and eight at Cincinnati.
Slated to begin this season as Lansanah's backup, Smith played so well that Randy Edsall felt he needed to get him on the field somewhere. So, in a last minute switch, he moved Smith to the starting role at middle linebacker. Smith responded in typical fashion, making a team-high 12 tackles.
Smith says it can be overwhelming in practice having to know so many different positions, but he welcomes the challenge.
"I see myself as a utility player," Smith said. "It's difficult. Special teams alone is difficult. In a game you narrow down a position, but practice is tough. It's a lot harder. It can overwhelming at times, but you have to make sure to put in 100 percent every time."