Minnesota Gophers fans were understandably excited when they heard that Alabama defensive tackle O.J. Smith was transferring to play for P.J. Fleck. However, the move also raised a number of questions. After all, composite 3 star Under Armour All Americans typically don’t leave the SEC to come to Minnesota. Also, Smith’s limited in game action meant there wasn’t a lot of stats/film to go on when evaluating the move.
I reached out to the fine folks over at Roll Bama Roll to get their perspective on O.J. Smith. Brent Taylor (@btbama22), one of RBR’s editors, was kind enough to share a wealth of knowledge about our big new DT.
O.J. Smith came to Alabama in the 2014 recruiting class as a high three-star recruit with some odd academic/moving hometown issues (read: many think he changed states to a school with a lower standard in order to pass and get into Bama)
Regardless, the 320-pound nose tackle was joining the Tide at the same time as Josh Frazier, Johnny Dwight, and Jarran Reed. All 4-star recruits, and you might have heard of that last guy. 2nd round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, or something like that. On top of that, A’Shawn Robinson, a 5-star recruit (and the other 2016 NFL draft 2nd rounder) had come to campus the year before. And then Da’Ron Payne followed up the next year, and the 5-star athletic freak quickly jumped to the top of the depth chart as a freshman.
So with all those names vying to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense that tends to sub out the nose tackle in nickel packages, the big man was a bit left out.
He redshirted during his first season to lose some sloppy weight and try to get quicker to adapt to the continued evolution to spread offenses in the SEC. I think he ended his Alabama career at 301 pounds if I remember correctly, which is much leaner than the 320 he was at as a freshman.
Over the course of the next two years he saw action in two games and managed one tackle in each.
With his size, he kind of got type-cast as a typical 2-down run stuffer at nose tackle who subs out in a passing down. A space-eater who takes on double-teams. You know, all the labels of a 3-4 nose tackle. Whether or not he fits those labels, though, is hard to tell. Like I said, we saw him only a couple of times in two years.
But you do know that you’ll be getting a player who spent three years at Alabama trying to perfect his playing weight and studying under three different nose tackles who either went in the 2nd round of the draft or will likely go in the 1st this year. You know that he will have been forced to learn the assignments of a 4-3 tackle in nickel defenses and a 3-4 end as well, as Alabama always cross-trains it’s defensive linemen to be able to play across the line.
Most likely, he’ll be a solid contributor in rush defense and make few mistakes, if not an easily visible impact. But did he develop pass-rush skills that we don’t know about? That’s the real question.
I hope he does great for you guys! Good luck!
BIG THANKS to Brent for all this great information! I was already excited about the transfer, but this really makes me feel good about it. We’re adding a player at a position of need for next season who has had a chance to practice with multiple NFL draft picks and whose departure from Bama is due to their ability to continue to bring in 5 star level talent, not because of off the field, academic, or performance issues. He’s had to prepare for both the 3-4 looks we’ll probably see this year and next as well as the preferred 4-3 alignment we know Fleck will go to as soon as he can. Good stuff all around.