Better to Give a Blow Than Take One

Sept. 10, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

If you were to draw up a textbook definition of an A-back in Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson’s unusual offense, Orwin Smith would match many of the criteria. A lot of that is because while growing up in Phenix City, Ala., he had little choice but to play big.

Excellent speed, check.

More than a willing blocker, check.

Size that’s more than supreme (6-feet-plus and about 205 pounds), check.

Receiving skills, check.

Tempo, double check.

Johnson said early in the week that the sophomore might start today at Kansas. Although Johnson said Wednesday that Marcus Wright is also in the running with Smith to possibly bump Embry Peeples out of a starting role, even if Smith does not start he’ll play plenty because Johnson said, “I just think he plays harder than the other guys.”

Smith’s primary assets are difficult to teach. He plays with discernible pace, and a proclivity for handing out punishment even though he’s first and foremost a speed back.

It’s come naturally. Beyond never-ending competition with twin brother Robert, Smith’s been banging away — and getting banged on – for quite some time.

“We always played football, whether it was in the streets or the grass, from the smallest lot to the biggest. I think growing up I started playing ball when I was 7, and it was always against the older guys,” he said. “It forced me to carry on and be aggressive.”

Smith, who as a freshman set school records for kickoff returns (37) and kickoff return yardage (888) in a season, had a high school coach with a certain idea that would appeal to Johnson, a suggestion that reinforced what Smith already was about: never mind whether you’re playing offense or defense; Central High coach Keith Wicker would say, “It’s like a boxer . . . it’s better to give a blow than take one.”

Although he rushed the ball just five times for 25 yards last season, Smith was on the field quite a bit as the season wore onward. He caught a couple passes, and might factor that way from this season.

The trick is one of his strengths, route-running, often calls upon one of his weaknesses. He’s trying to improve at knowing what route to adjust into based on defensive alignment. Johnson said Smith needs to “better understand” what Tech is trying to do on a play-to-play basis.

Here’s a better explanation: “If we go out there expecting one defense, and they have a whole different defense, I have to know what to do against that defense,” Smith said. “I’m one of the better route runners, and he wants me to be more consistent [at running the right routes against certain defenses].”

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