By Alex Norman
Tennessee might be known as a power running team, but if they are going to finally get to the next level in the Southeastern Conference in 2016, the passing game must show improvement. Wide receiver Josh Smith believes that can happen this season.
“We all have to be clicking and have that same chemistry with the quarterbacks,” said Smith. “(We) gotta step up our game and I think this summer is huge as far as developing chemistry with our quarterbacks. We do a lot of throwing this and that with the quarterbacks. It’s huge for a lot of the guys.”
Smith added, “Obviously we lost some good guys (Von Pearson, Marquez North, Johnathon Johnson each graduated or left early). We have to replace those guys to make offense better and that is our goal. When they leave will we get worse or will we put talent where that was. That’s our goal.”
Smith took a medical redshirt in 2014 due to an ankle injury, but bounced back in 2015 to become one of Tennessee’s most reliable pass catching options, starting in the Vols last 7 games.
“I love running and catching the ball. I love making plays and scoring touchdowns. This place gives you the opportunity to do that,” said Smith. “I’ve learned a lot from this program and Coach Z (wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni) and it has been fun to grind at it and try to perfect my craft and become a better receiver.”
Smith caught 23 passes last year, including a couple of touchdowns against Alabama and Georgia. He is trying to live up to his potential, while at the same time trying to reel in the hype for his team.
“We see everyone’s tweets and everything… all the social media about the expectations and what we can do better, but honestly we have to focus on ourselves and improve every day,” said Smith. “I know it is cliché but it is true. I think it is huge to block out everything and keep moving forward and focus on ourselves.”
Smith is a local product, and played his high school football at Christian Academy of Knoxville. For him, and other Tennessee players with local ties, it means a little bit more “Running through the T” at Neyland Stadium.
“People say they are from Georgia but love Tennessee… yeah, you might love it but there is definitely a difference,” said Smith. “Just growing up here… we really do love it. (Junior safety and Webb School product) Todd Kelly Jr.’s Dad (Todd Kelly Sr.) played here… my Dad went here. I just think it is a different level caring for this place, and it makes you want to do that much better. You take pride in it. You want to come back and be welcome, be a legend here. Everyone dreams of doing that. It is just a cool place and it is always dear to my heart.”