KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — While Antonio Brown is a popular reference point in Tennessee’s receiver room, Vols redshirt junior Josh Smith is studying a different Pro Bowl wideout in preparation for the 2016 season.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones and receivers assistant Zach Azzanni plucked Brown — now a star with the Pittsburgh Steelers — from anonymity at Central Michigan, but Smith spent much of the offseason watching tape of New England Patriots wideout Julian Edelman.
“I watch a ton of film on him everyday,” said Smith, who moved to slot receiver during the spring.
“All the little slots in the NFL. I just compare myself. See what they do good and what they do bad. What do I do good and do bad? I critique it a lot. I love studying the game. Julian is so smooth.”
Smith is among Tennessee’s most talented receivers, but the Knoxville native has been derailed by injuries for much of his career. The 6-foot-1, 213-pound speedster redshirted in 2014 following a serious ankle injury. After starting just seven games last season, Smith said he’s a 100 percent now and has a renewed focus on maintaining his health and increasing his role.
“Last year I probably could’ve done more,” he said.
“I regret that. This year, I’m not making that same mistake (again). I’m taking better care of my body, getting treatment, cold tubs, whatever I can do.”
Smith recorded just 23 receptions for 307 yards last year, so he’s eyeing a breakout season at a new position.
“I feel like I’m in my happy place now,” he said.
“I feel so comfortable. I know exactly what I’m doing. It’s really encouraging.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com