Phil Smith has been a key reserve for the Georgia Tech offensive line this season. He has helped the offensive line pave the way for the rushing attack that demolished Vandy this past weekend. Tech currently ranks second in the nation with 304 rushing yards per game, which is a 31 yards per game improvement from last season.
This is largely due to the cohesiveness of the offensive line and their overall improvement as a unit. Smith sums it up by saying, "It has been a work in progress since the beginning of the year. We really came together in Virginia and it has been smooth sailing ever since."
Georgia Tech also has the luxury of having some depth along the front for the first time under Paul Johnson. Injuries decimated the offensive line towards the end of last season, but as a result, other players were forced to step up and gained valuable experience. This season some of the younger players such as Smith have stepped up to give Tech more options if needed.
He says, "A lot of the back ups like myself, Claytor, Uzzi, and Dan (Voss) all feel like we can step in and contribute when needed and play as well as the starters."
Smith has been particularly adept at protecting the quarterback. This has been a weakness for the Jackets for much of the Coach Johnson era, which is likely due to the fact that this offense does not throw the ball much so the players do not get as many repetitions in practice. They also take much wider gaps, which makes it harder to pass protect.
Smith attributes his skills in pass protection to his athleticism for someone his size. According to him, "One of the main things that helps me out is that I played AAU basketball since the seventh grade and I played JV and Varsity at my high school. It helps me to move my feet and stay in front of the defender."
He is only a red-shirt freshman and recognizes that there is still a lot to be learned about playing his position. Smith has benefited a lot from red-shirting and is still working on various parts of his game. In his words, "The speed of the game has been one of the biggest adjustments, but what really helped me out was going up against Derrick (Morgan) and Mike Johnson last year. I went up against them every single play and it really helped me out with pass blocking and run blocking. Right now I just need to work on staying lower and getting stronger so that I can take my game to that next level."