Devin Smith wasted no time winning a national title and then practicing in the Senior Bowl.
MOBILE, Ala.- Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith is still in the tornado as he shoots from the national championship whirlwind into the NFL maelstrom here at the Reese's Senior Bowl. When his Buckeyes get feted in town Saturday, he'll be playing for the North (4 p.m.-NFL Network) against the South to begin his efforts to cap it all off with a high selection in the NFL Draft.
"I feel like it's a move to the next thing (in my life)," Smith said this week, asked if it had all hit him yet. "I really didn't get a chance to be with some of my teammates except for after the game. It's crazy how fast it's been. I'm grateful for every moment I've spent with my teammates and my teammates here. I'm just blessed to be in this position."
Look him over. The Bengals are suddenly aching for wide receiver speed and Smith fits them like the big-play offense Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer sprung on his peers in the last three shocking games.
Smith's Ohio State bio says he's 6-3, 190 pounds and the Senior Bowl roster lists him at 6-1, 200. Standing next to him is a lot like standing next to James Wright, the 6-1 wide receiver the Bengals took last year in the seventh round. He's fast enough that two years ago he was named an honorable mention All-American in the 100 relay. He played at Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio, site of Bengals founder Paul Brown's orange-and-black powerhouses before he coached Ohio State's first national championship team in 1942.
"He's a heck of a coach, I can say that much," Smith said. "They told us briefly about him when I was at Massillon and Ohio State. When I was at Ohio State it was more Woody Hayes and things like that. Coming from the city of Massillon and playing football there, I know how important he is to the city."
Paul Brown liked his receivers big and tall. So does his son, Bengals president Mike Brown. So does Mike Brown's head coach, Marvin Lewis. Since Lewis has been the coach, the Bengals have drafted 18 wide receivers and only one has been under six feet, the 5-11 Jordan Shipley. Before that, it was the draft 15 years ago when they reluctantly took 5-11 Peter Warrick with the fourth pick.
And, don't get offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wrong. He likes big guys, too. But he really likes speed and he's not adverse to looking at guys under six feet.
"The biggest threat is vertical speed, not size," Jackson said as he watched Smith and the rest of the North on Thursday. "If I'm faster than you, but you're taller than me, I'm eventually going to find a way to get away from you. There are guys that make contested catches, but the common thread for success is speed.
"You're not going to get open all the time, so you have to make contested catches. But you also have to be able to create separation so the quarterback can feel comfortable throwing it in there."
Jackson's idea of a speed receiver is the current biggest Bengals killer not in captivity, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown as he comes off a monster season in which he bedeviled Cincinnati twice in the December losses to Pittsburgh with big catches and a punt return touchdown. Jackson admires the 5-10, 180-pound Brown for not only his speed, but his toughness and strength.
"He's got exceptional suddenness and quickness and to me suddenness is a lateral ability to make people miss. He has quickness and top end speed," Jackson said. "(Bengals wide receiver) A.J. Green can run but it's a different kind of speed. It's long speed. But one guy is 5-10 and one guy is 6-4. They're different."
The Bengals are clearly looking for a vertical threat behind Green and Jones, but probably not before the third round, which is OK with Jackson. "Some of the best players in the league were drafted in third and fourth round," he said.
And Brown went in the 2010 sixth round, four picks after the Bengals took 6-3 Dez Briscoe, so height isn't everything. Briscoe hasn't played an NFL game in the last two seasons.
Smith won't be around that late, but some analysts think he could last to the third round. Smith, last timed in the 40-yard dash in 2012 at 4.33 seconds, figures if he pops a similar number at next month's NFL scouting combine, he's got a chance to go in the first round. He'll try. He leaves for San Diego after the game to train for the combine.
"He can fly," said NFL Network draft king Mike Mayock. "There are a bunch of speed guys in this wide receiver draft. Watch two guys on the outside on the first team for the South. Those are the three guys in this game with a different gear. They can run the verticals. We'll see how they run those other routes now."
Mayock referred to the University of Miami's Phillip Dorsett and Auburn's Sammie Coates, but Smith may be more comparable to the Bengals' fifth-round pick of 2012, Marvin Jones. Jones had speed, but he was a bit raw in the finer points of the position, such as route running and technique. Smith seems to understand he's fighting that battle when asked what he needs to do this week to raise his stock.
"Show them that I can run intermediate routes. I've been working on my blocking," Smith said.
If anyone can offer a scouting report, it's Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant, who just happens to be Smith's second cousin. They're more like brothers. They grew up together in Akron before Smith went to play in Massillon, and they're roommates.
"He's very fast. You have to get your hands on him," Grant said after a practice this week. "He's quick twitch at the line. You have to be able to slide. You have to be able to run with him down field. When he gets that second gear when he gets those knees up, you've got to go."
Maybe it's not all about height. Smith doesn't have a favorite NFL team, but he does follow players and he's had his eyes on the 6-0, 200-pound Jeremy Maclin forever. He thinks that's the guy he resembles most in the NFL right now
"I've been watching him since he was at Missouri," Smith said. "The way he moves with the ball in his hands, the way he runs his routes and how fast he is, is really fascinating to me. How smooth he is. That's what I'm trying to do to my game."
It wasn't always smooth in Columbus. The Ohio scribes asked him about his frustrations in the middle of the season about not getting the ball. He wasn't a diva about it but he did go to the coaches.
"There was a point in time I didn't want to be around," Smith said. "Talking to my family, they told me to keep pushing and when my opportunity came, to take it. Just keep working hard. I didn't want to be arrogant. 'Give me the ball, give me the ball.' I just showed that I was going to work hard and stay positive.
"Nothing changed. They saw they had to get the ball (deep) a little more. Especially with some of the teams we were going to face toward the end the season. I think we took our shots down field and they believed I could do that."
His position coach counseled patience, that the plays that were drawn up during the week would sometimes be taken away. A close call back in June also helped perspective. How he didn't get badly hurt in a horrific wreck back in June may have truly been the start of the Buckeyes' dream season.
According to the Canton Repository, Smith was cited for failure to control as part of an accident in Jackson Township at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday where his car hit a utility pole after it flipped. The paper said he tested under the legal limit for alcohol.
"That scared me, too, by the way," Grant said. "I saw the picture of the car. I was talking to his Dad and he said he showed up to the site and he saw the car and he said, 'Man, where is he at?' because he didn't see him. It was crazy the way he came out with just a couple of cuts. Nothing serious. But when you saw that car, it was smashed."
Smith is still shaken. It was a rough season that also involved the death of Buckeyes defensive tackle Kosta Karageorge
"There were times I told my family I loved them a lot more than I had in the past," he said. "It really helped me get through some adversity, like losing a teammate and my girlfriend losing her sister. It helped me appreciate things a lot more."
When life begins in Massillon, the football boosters make sure the babies get mini footballs in their hospital basinets, an enduring sign of Paul Brown's mark on the town. Smith was born in Akron, so he didn't get one. "But a lot of my cousins did."
Especially one of his cousins, who got a Paul Brown football and an affinity for his last team.
"He was just saying before I left Sunday, 'It would be crazy if the Bengals drafted you,'" Smith said. "I watched them when they had Ocho Cinco, but at Ohio State we didn't have much time to watch games on Sunday."
Grant also sees the poetry if a Massillon kid ends up in Paul Brown Stadium.
"And his college," said Grant, ever mindful of that '42 title.
One of the Cleveland scribes reminded Smith he's already got some orange and black.
"Absolutely," Smith said. "That color will never go away."