Branden Smith hasn’t made much noise at Georgia since his freshman year when he burst onto the scene in with one very big play against the South Carolina Gamecocks. A play that happened so long ago that you’ve likely forgotten how spectacular it was—see it again below:
That one still leaves me shaking my head in awe—his speed is amazing—but what happened to Mr. Smith? Where has he gone and when the hell will he be back? All indications point to a 2011 return—whether it comes more on offense than defense is yet to be seen—as Smith was observed fielding kicks and punts over the weekend.
Is that where Georgia hopes to see him do the most damage this season, particularly given Smith’s injury history? After all, it’s well-known that Smith suffered through multiple concussions in 2011, and if he continues to play defense, collisions with opponents who outweigh him by better than 40-50 pounds is likely. Of course there are those who would point out that defensive back Brandon Boykin doesn’t dwarf Smith by very much, size wise, yet he’s been able to achieve success.
While the latter is true, it’s premature to place Smith and Boykin in the same category where skill or development is concerned. Smith is not yet the caliber of player—at least not defensively—that Brandon Boykin is, and Boykin makes up for in ball skills and mental play what he lacks in overall size.
Overall, however, the biggest challenge Smith will have—if he does intend to succeed on defense—is grasping Todd Grantham’s defense.
Recall that when Smith signed with Georgia in 2009, Martinez was still running the defense, and the soft-zone scheme Georgia’s defense operated under was meant for guys like Smith and Boykin who could use their speed to catch up to a play if they missed a read (although, to be honest, we all remember how well that worked out).
With Grantham at the helm, defensive backs have to take a more proactive role in how they play their position. They have to both read and react—not just react—and not every player has proven that they can do this with ease.
If Smith is going to get back on the field fast, I suspect it will be in a special teams capacity—for the most part—with some gadget plays thrown in for good measure. I don’t know that he has a future on defense at the corner spot, at least not now, but his speed and talent are simply too valuable a commodity to not find a home on the football field in 2011.