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2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview: D’Ante Smith, OT, ECU

Coudl Smith be the answer at left tackle for the Colts?

East Carolina v Navy Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

A fan-favorite series is coming back to the site as it is officially prospect interview season. For anybody new to the site or for people who need a reminder, every draft season I sit down with prospects that are going to be in the upcoming NFL Draft to talk with them about their off-field accomplishments and some film aspects on the field. While I don’t always talk to star players, I have been able to talk to a few players who eventually ended up with the Colts such as Khari Willis, Marvell Tell III, and Rock Ya-Sin.

Our next prospect interview is with East Carolina offensive tackle D’Ante Smith. We had a great conversation about his preferential pass set, how he combats the long arm, and how he has such a deadly punch.


Background

Height: 6’5”

Weight: 294 pounds

Arm Length: 35.28 inches

Class: RS Senior

Smith is a former three-star recruit out of Grovetown High School in Grovetown, Georgia. He was immediately thrown into action as a redshirt freshman at ECU where he started four games at left tackle and one game at left guard. From his redshirt sophomore year onto his senior year, he would go on to start every game at left tackle for the Pirates and be an anchor on their left side. He was also a Team Captain during his last two seasons and a three-time All-AAC honoree.

After his incredible career at ECU, he was invited to participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile.

ZH: What did it mean to you to be a captain and a leader for that ECU team?

DS: It was one of the best things in college that ended up happening for me. All the players filled out a survey and for them to pick me to represent them was a huge opportunity for me. I was able to go out there and be a vocal leader and provide energy to the team when they needed me to.

ZH: You received an invite to the Senior Bowl this offseason. How was that experience for you?

DS: I was excited to get invited to the Senior Bowl. When I got the invite, I called my mom and told her about it. It was something I have been watching since I was in high school and I knew it was a big opportunity for me to turn some heads in this draft process.

ZH: Who were some of the players that you remember watching when you watched the Senior Bowl in high school?

DS: There was a bunch of people that I used to watch in high school. I mostly just focused on the one on ones. I didn’t even know anybody’s name, I was just watching the one on ones to pick up on certain things and see what I could take from there.


Quick Punch

ZH: I loved how good your punch is on film. Have you worked on heavy hands and the speed of your first punch at all?

DS: Most definitely. I have been working on the speed and power of my punch to make sure it is efficient for me. A lot of that came from me wrestling with hand placement and such like that, so I had some experience with it already.

ZH: Oh you have a wrestling background?

DS: Yessir. I did it up until my junior year. It taught me a lot about my body in terms of things I can do with my body and how I can move in small spaces. It really helped me when it came to football.


Athleticism

ZH: Your athleticism popped on film. Your offense was able to use you so much in space due to how quick you are for your size. Would you say that is a big appeal in your game?

DS: It is something that my offensive coordinator saw how I could move and wanted to get me out in space as often as possible. I really just wanted to be the best I can be when I pull and the offense I was in at ECU really helped me show that ability.


Talking Tackle Technique

ZH: So there are two schools of thought when it comes to pass sets. There’s the more traditional vertical set and then the aggressive style of the jump set or angle set. Is there one that you typically prefer?

DS: For me, it just depends on the situation, what play it is, or what I need to do to get my job done. It’s really about playing a little game with the defensive lineman and showing him different looks. I like to use the vertical set in most game situations but sometimes it is easier to have an aggressive set, so I just like to mix it up.

ZH: I’ll put you on the spot then. Let’s say you have a defensive end in a wide nine alignment and he is known for his speed on the edge. How would you set that player?

DS: I would get him with a vertical set.

ZH: So you’d rather give a little ground rather than jump him?

DS: I’d get back a little bit to a spot and get in front of him so I can keep my hips square.

ZH: Perfect. How big are those landmarks for you, especially in vertical sets?

DS: The thing for me is just reading the rush. You want to get into your vertical set but you can still read the rush. You don’t want to turn your hips and give him a two-way go. I like to bring my rush in. If I’m going a little too fast, I’ll try to tempo down a little bit to make sure I am keeping him where I want him to be.

ZH: A pass rush that is getting popular in the NFL is the long arm. How would you combat that as a tackle?

DS: For me, long arm is a move that you can combat in many different ways. Most of the time, it is natural to just swipe it down because of my wrestling mindset. So my natural instinct is to swipe it but sometimes I’ll re-fit and try to angle the player where I want him to. Mostly though, I’ll swipe it down.


Transition to Guard?

ZH: So it doesn’t make sense to me but I saw you line up at some guard at the Senior Bowl. Would you be comfortable making that transition to guard if need be?

DS: I have no problem with that. That was a big reason why I felt like it was a good idea to get some of those reps, just so I could show people that I have no problem playing inside. i am willing to be an offensive lineman, not just an offensive tackle.


Playing next to Quenton Nelson (potentially)

ZH: So I typically avoid team-specific questions, but I have to ask this. How would you feel lining up next to Quenton Nelson if the Colts selected you?

DS: If I were to have the opportunity to play beside Quenton Nelson, that would be great. He is a very powerful player who comes with a lot of aggressiveness, knowledge of the game, and just very smart. That would be a very good player to play beside.


NFL Outlook

ZH: What is my team getting if they draft D’Ante Smith?

DS: You are getting somebody that comes to work every day. Somebody that is a real competitor at all times. I get better as I progress. Every year I get better. You are getting somebody that is ready to compete and become one of the best.


Final Thoughts

One of my favorite players in the draft certainly didn’t disappoint in this interview. I am a huge fan of the traits that Smith possesses and he fits everything Ballard tends to look at for young offensive tackles (he came in at number two in my Build-A-Ballard OT ranking). He may not be ready to start for most teams but the Colts having Nelson right next to him and a quick passing game could allow him to start early.

This is one of the best solutions for the Colts at left tackle. Trade back in the first round, pick up an extra third and bring Smith to this team. He has the traits to be a top tackle in the NFL and I fully trust Chris Strausser to get the most out of him. Please Colts, bring this man to Indy.