UT freshman Trey Smith continues to establish himself as an impact player
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee offensive lineman Trey Smith is just a true freshman, but as he looked down the line Saturday night Smith noticed something.
In the fourth quarter of the Vols’ 24-10 win over Southern Miss, Smith was the second-most experienced player on the offensive line.
There was redshirt freshmen Ryan Johnson and Devante Brooks, a converted tight end who hadn’t played a competitive snap since his sophomore year of high school, both making their first starts on the right side of the line. Next to Smith was Riley Locklear, a fellow true freshman, who was in the game due to the Vols lack of depth up front.
The only other scholarship offensive lineman healthy at the end of the game was senior Jashon Robertson, who has 43 career starts to his credit, at center.
“Odd,” Smith said when asked about the circumstances. “Sort of funny. (Offensive line) coach (Walt) Wells tells me you’re not really a freshman anymore and that I’m more of a sophomore.”
The situation had become so bad up front, UT had only six scholarship offensive linemen available for Saturday’s game. Four of them were freshmen and all of them played. With each week — and each injury suffered by a ravaged offensive line — Smith becomes more and more a key component to what Tennessee does up front.
Smith has started every game of his young career, beginning with eight games at right guard, but with UT offensive lineman either going down or transferring, Smith was rotated to left tackle against the Golden Eagles.
In doing so, Smith became the first true freshman in at least 30 years to start at left tackle for the Vols, according to Tennessee.
“I thought he did a really good job, moving out there and sometimes being put on islands in pass protections and things like that,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Larry Scott said. “He showed what we hoped for, the versatility to be able to swing guys around and swing them out there which continues to kind of make up for the lack of depth. It helps us moving forward.”
Smith isn’t foreign to left tackle. It’s the position he played all of high school, building his reputation as one of the most dominant offensive linemen in the 2017 recruiting class.
Doing it at the college level is a bit different, though.
“When you’re on the edge, man, it’s a different world,” Smith said. “You’re on an island essentially. I know when I started playing it in training camp I told my coaches and friends, ‘Man, being at tackle, you’ve got to be a man out there.’ You’re not getting much help like you would at guard or center. You’re really on your own with a lot of things.”
Regardless of where Smith has lined up, he has been one of Tennessee’s best linemen. Scott said Smith has graded out in the top three every week, and twice this season Smith has been awarded the sledgehammer emblazoned in orange, which is awarded each week to the lineman with the best block, including this week.
Smith leads the Vols with 41 knockdowns this season and is the second-highest graded lineman behind Robertson.
“He’s definitely come out and been able to demonstrate that he can do it week in and week out as a true freshman,” Scott said.
Smith doesn’t want anything to change, though. Regardless of how he plays, he wants to stay the same driven player that has reached such heights this early in his career.
“I’m just a freshman,” he said. “I haven’t won an award. I haven’t been to a championship. I haven’t won a Super Bowl. I haven’t played a down in the NFL. I haven’t done anything, so why would I act a different way? Even when I get to that point, if I do, why would I act a different way?
“I always want to be the same humble Trey Smith. The same guy everybody else knows. There’s nothing that should change about that just because of success.”