Sept. 12, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
If you were to draw up a textbook definition of an A-back in Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson’s unique 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 last week that the sophomore might start Saturday at Kansas. He did not (junior Marcus Wright did), but clearly Smith continues to impress the coaching staff.
“I just think he plays harder than the other guys,” Johnson said.
Smith is showing signs of evolving into a featured back. At Kansas he rushed five times for 37 yards, caught one 19-yard pass and returned four kickoffs for 74 yards – that’s 130 all-purpose yards.
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: nevermind 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].”