Tape it up: Smith chairman of sack board

Tim Klobuchar

A month ago former Gophers defensive end Lamanzer Williams dropped off an instructional videotape for his old teammate, senior Rufus Smith.
The tape included offensive lines and varying degrees of stripping and maiming — just the sort of behavior Smith hopes to emulate next season.
The ringleader behind this scurrilous on-tape behavior wasn’t too-hot-for-TV schlock-meister Jerry Springer. Rather, it was legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who at 68 is much more likely to splinter a chair while rocking in it than breaking it over an offending player’s head.
What Williams actually gave Smith and sophomore Curtese Poole was a tape filled with snippets of various Seminoles pass rushers flying past linemen and pummeling the quarterback.
Williams reasoned that a new defensive end, which Smith is, could get no better pointers on how to play the position than by watching the Seminoles, whose swarming defense is regularly ranked among the nation’s elite. Smith agrees.
“That’s a good tape,” Smith said. “I watched it quite a bit before spring ball started. I’ve picked up a few things. You can always learn things from other people’s play.”
Williams himself used a Florida State player for motivation during his Gophers career. He actually left the team during his freshman year, and returned partly because he was motivated by watching now-Minnesota Vikings defensive end Derrick Alexander punish the quarterback in a televised game. Williams eventually turned into a first team All-American his senior year, tying for the national lead in sacks in 1997 with 18.5.
Now that the Ypsilanti, Mich., native is gone, Smith is taking his place at defensive end. Like Williams, Smith is making the move from outside linebacker, starting with spring practice. The comparison likely won’t carry into the sack column, however. The prodigious number Williams put up last season will be tough for anyone to match.
“We have to make up for 18 1/2 sacks, so we’re not putting everything on Rufus,” said Mark Snyder, Gophers defensive ends coach. “He can go out and get as many sacks as he can, but everyone has to help make up for it.”
Williams, though, guaranteed a double-digit sack season for Smith, saying that some of Smith’s physical skills are better than his own.
“I think he’ll do great. He’s quicker and faster than me,” Williams said. “Some of the linebacker things can help you because he’s quicker than anyone he’s going to face.”
Snyder said Smith was transplanted in large part because the move boosts the Gophers’ team speed. Smith will benefit from the move to end not only because he’ll have the chance to put up a hefty sack total, but because he’ll have a greater opportunity to play, period.
Smith saw his playing time at linebacker reduced throughout last season. Injuries were one reason, but so was the play of Ben Mezera. The freshman displayed an immediate knack for making big plays at Smith’s position. He recovered three fumbles and had two interceptions, making Smith more expendable as a linebacker.
“Coaches know what’s best, who could perform better at the time, and they thought someone else could perform better than I could,” Smith said. “I understood that.”
Williams, who went through his share of troubles while at Minnesota, took notice of how Smith handled losing his job to a freshman.
“That was good leadership,” Williams said. “That sort of reminded me of what Cory (Sauter, Gophers quarterback) did. He changed from throwing a lot to running the option and he never said a word. You have to respect guys like that.”
Williams predicted that Smith would “love” Snyder, the coach who, in his first year, helped turn a previously middling player into one of the best pass rushers in the country. So far Smith likes what he sees, and said there’s one aspect of the 33-year-old coach that sticks out.
“His enthusiasm,” Smith said. “He’s very enthusiastic. That’s what I like about him. On a pass rush, if you run into the guy with the ball, he goes crazy. He loves it.”
It’s hard to tell which Snyder would like more — the Florida State tape or the Springer tape.