Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the recruit: LaChaston Smith

Name: LaChaston Smith
Position: LB
Hometown: Statesville, NC
School: South Iredell
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 211

24/7: 89, three stars; #28 OLB, NC #13
ESPN: 80, four stars; #40 OLB, NC #17, Southeast #196
Rivals: 5.7, three stars; #35 OLB, NC #17
Scout: three stars; #42 MLB

Other offers: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Minnesota, East Carolina

I've been sitting here a while trying to find what distinguishes LaChaston Smith from the other prospects enough to make it worth an opening paragraph.  Then I realized: if it's getting routine for us to pick up borderline four-star recruits with multiple SEC offers (and not just SEC in the most technical sense, like Mississippi State, but actual star-power offers like Florida and Tennessee), that's awesome.

Smith committed at the end of May in one of those really pleasant surprise type deals where you just kind of shuffle over to one of the recruiting sites and bam, there's the headline.  No lead-in, no special occasion, no big weekend event, just a regular ol' Thursday, except with a commitment.  The reason: Smith broke his foot last year and wanted to get in the door early somewhere in case he got hurt again.

Unfortunately, it was a prophetic decision.  He moved the injury a little higher up this time, breaking a shin bone in his first game of the season.  He was out of the cast and into a walking boot last week, but likely still has a few weeks to go before he's in playing shape.  A real bummer, because South Iredell had big plans for him.  Most two-way players are either linemen or track-star types who play DB on defense and quarterback or receiver on offense.  Smith is a linebacker through and through, but his high school team had also been working him at receiver, RB, and even as a wildcat QB.

That's kind of exciting, because Smith is probably the most athletic LB verbal we have for 2013, and that's saying something because Zach Bradshaw is an outstanding two-way player himself (as a receiver on offense and a special teams ace) and Micah Kiser is no slouch himself.  Rivals loved his coverage skills at the VTO camp ("During one-on-ones, he was smooth, turned easily, showed nice patience, closed well and had solid ball skills") and ESPN spends half their evaluation praising his ability to defend the pass.

So there's no doubt we should have high expectations for Smith.  You've got evaluations that basically agree with each other across the board, and an offer list to match.  Beating out some of the better SEC powers means you did something right.  I love Henry Coley's decisiveness, and Steve Greer is like a coach on the field, but Al Groh did not put a major emphasis on athleticism in his linebackers, except for the one that would play the role of the sackmaster.  His major thing was right-place-right-time guys like Greer and Jon Copper.  LaChaston Smith is a big part of a wave of athleticism, a complete remake of the position.  The hope is that right-place-right-time can be taught, and while you're doing that you just figure at least they'll get where they're going fast.  By the time Smith is a regular in the lineup, guys like Kwontie Moore and Demeitre Brim will be in place, and slow will be out and fast will be in.  Smith fits in perfectly with that philosophy.

As long as injuries don't slow him up.  Nobody likes to be saddled with the "injury-prone" label, but two in two years puts you at risk for it.  Smith needs about 20 pounds - most of our guys are playing around 230 - and it's tough to put that on when your focus is injury rehab.  Fortunately, broken bones are better healers than ligaments and joints and connecty-things.  Smith is exactly the kind of player Mike London so far seems to like to put on the field on special teams coverage, but the injuries may dictate a redshirt.  I lean toward putting him on the weak side where he can deal with slot receivers, if he turns out to be as good in pass coverage as the scouts say.  If that's the case, you've got D.J. Hill right now as the heir apparent, who'll be a junior next fall.  That'll probably be an open competition, though.  Best-case for Smith is that he steps into that competition in 2013 and at least earns some playing time the way Maurice Canady has done at cornerback, but if he doesn't get there right away, it's hard to envision him not finding his way to the forefront sooner or later.


Anonymous said...

I think that is a bit of an ... odd comment on Groh's LB recruiting abilities.

First off, different schemes, obviously. With London, we're in a more classic 4-3 scheme that demands a "chase" WILL backer and a SAM backer that has a lot more coverage responsibilities.

2nd, to say that Al Groh recruited only athletes for his "sackmaster" spots, that is, his rush backers - well ... that's still half the linebacking core. And as I'll note below, 3 very good athletes were recruited for inside roles. Sheer quantity needed is a difference.

Before I get to some examples, one last point is that the two you pointed out, Copper and Greer, played the MIKE role in the 3-4 well. In the 3-4, the demand on athleticism at one inside spot isn't always necessary (but again, we had some good athletes there). Instincts, ability to work through junk, solid tackling, and some lateral movement are more critical.

All that said ... the most talented linebacker that Al Groh brought in wasn't a "sackmaster" (and by this, I assume you are talking about a rush backer in the 3-4). Ahmad Brooks was ... and actually, still is ... one of the most ridiculous LB athletes out of HS. Perhaps he should've been put on the edge ... but with Blackstock and others, they put him inside.

As a recruit, Kai Parham was viewed as a good athlete. Now, as time passed, and perhaps as he added on too much muscle, that athleticism was lost by his last couple years, and really showed in his workouts for the NFL.

Looking through the Al Groh years, and I'd say that there were fairly good athletes recruited for the LB position. Antonio Appleby was a very good athlete.

I think a better word to say is that London wants more range, or more speed, out of his LB's, because the system demands it. Because your examples, to me, Greer and Copper lack range above all else. But ... all in all ... over the Groh era, I think they recruited some good athletes at LB. We're assuming, also, that some of the guys that are being touted under the London watch will develop into top athletic LB's. As Parham showed, you never know how guys will physically change over those years.

Brendan said...

Lemme clarify. Naturally, I'd never suggest that Groh avoided athletes. But when it got down to the real brass tacks of it, as in, "crap you guys, it's December and we don't have enough linebackers in the recruiting class, who do we offer?" the difference is clear. Groh would've offered a Greer type. In fact, that's exactly what happened. Greer was a really, really late offer. London will find a generic athlete and teach him a position later. Groh would NEVER have offered Demeitre Brim.

There were some good athletes that we had at linebacker, and I don't mean this to bash the guys who played that position under Groh, because most were very good at it, but the linebackers on the field for us in 2014 and 2015 will be the most athletic since the Brooks-Parham group. Appleby might be an example of an athletic guy, but most of the others - Burrell, Childs, J. Dias, etc. - were pretty average in that department.

There really was only one sackmaster position, after all - the other OLB played a pretty traditional strong-side role. The sackmaster was the guy who played with his hand on the ground as often as not - Cam Johnson was recruited specifically to do that. Also think Blackstock (not an ILB, he was a quasi-DE sackmaster), Clint Sintim.

Anonymous said...

Well, I can agree that the LB's at the beginning of the Groh era were far better than the linebackers at the end. I don't know if I would attribute that necessarily to what Groh looked for, as I tend to think it was more an indicator of the struggles they had recruiting in the final years of Groh.

But ... part of that also has to do with how players develop internally. It's not like Groh didn't try. Let's not forget about the touted 2007 class. Leaving aside the utter failure of Lalich, as that isn't the point, both TFD and J'Courtney Williams were viewed as prime athletes for the LB position (if they ended up playing LB). Jared Detrick, as a prep player, was a decent athlete, IIRC. IIRC, Almondo Sewell, while not a top recruit, was also viewed as a good athlete.

I'll leave at this - A good athlete at 6'4" 240-250 might not have the range of a guy like a LaChaston Smith, at 5'11" 210, but your expectations aren't for him to be the same. In the 3-4, there's less of a dynamic need for a classic "chase" backer, a classic WILL backer, and what is more critical is lateral movement and ability.

One final note, though, is something I've pointed out elsewhere about the Groh era before. 2 things, IMO, were his downfall - a, the obvious inability to develop a QB, and b, the fact that it took him some time to understand how to recruit for a 3-4 at UVA. Guys like Brent Urban/Matt Conrath weren't highly touted guys, but are guys that could've been excellent 3-4 fits at UVA. Same goes for Cam Johnson ... and same goes for a guy like Steve Greer. You want elite options up and down the line, if possible, but recruiting for the needs of the 3-4 ILB spot, a smart, solid tackler with lateral range and toughness, is fine.

* I also wonder if we're selling Steve Greer a bit short. IIRC, he was still timed in the low 4.7 range on the 40, and on the field, he shows solid agility.

Anonymous said...

One other point -

I'm not sure that the argument that Groh wouldn't take athletes and coach them up is fair. He might not have taken Brim - Brim doesn't really project as a fit at LB for any 3-4 scheme, unless he adds significant weight, so he'd have to buy him as a safety.

But ... during the Groh era, they did take some good athletes and coach them up. Branden Albert wasn't highly touted. IIRC, Kwakou Robinson was a more touted prospect than D'Brickashaw (and Kwakou never adequately replaced Andrew Hoffman).

Brad Butler is another good example. If he had opted to stay in football, I imagine he'd still have a career as a potential starting OL guy. He looked that solid in Buffalo. Nate Collins is a good example on the DL of a good, raw athlete out of HS who developed and now shows some potential staying power in the NFL as a depth DT.

Landon Bradley had a couple promising years before the injury.