Oakland football coach Thomas McDaniel altered the offense in the and simplified his secondary in the offseason to capitalize in the Patriots influx in athleticism.
No player may benefit more than Emmanuel Smith.
The junior 6-foot-2, 179-pound athlete takes over as the Patriots’ starting quarterback and returns at free safety. He will benefit from an offense that will use the shotgun more on offense, benefiting his live arm and swift feet. On defense, he’ll be allowed to roam in the secondary, where he can cover ground in bunches.
But what may help him the most is being a year stronger and older.
“I think just the experience he had last year has helped him this year,” McDaniel said. “He’s had a lot of time in the weight room and he’s obviously gotten stronger than he was as a sophomore. His strength is much improved.
“Those things are obvious on the field because he covers a lot of ground. He’s got a unique ability to cover a lot of ground and space.”
Smith split time with Jahaad Lyons during the first half of the 2011 season at quarterback before sustaining a foot injury that kept him sidelined until the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
Smith was 4-for-11 passing for 73 yards in 2011. He rushed for 259 yards on 38 carries with one touchdown.
Those numbers, if he stays healthy, should only increase this season.
His improved play was obvious in the early preseason. Smith showed the ability to be a ball hawker on defense, picking off numerous passes in a rain-shortened MTSU 7-on-7 passing tournament. That was a sight unseen last year, and an emphasis in the offseason.
“I have to catch the picks that come to me instead of dropping them,” said Smith of this season. “I’ve progressed a lot from last year. My sophomore year I was a little iffy about it. Now I know how to do it.
“It’s just natural now.”
And that is what McDaniel is banking on. Smith has the pieces in place to be a dominant safety.
“He can play man coverage and be very physical against the run,” McDaniel said. “He’s one of those guys that needs a bunch of reps. The more he sees the better he’s going to get at it. He still has a long way to go to reach his full potential.”
Smith also has the ability to throw the deep ball at quarterback, while also being an elusive runner.
“He’s a dual-threat quarterback,” McDaniel said. “He’s elusive. He’s a great runner and he can throw the ball a mile.”
Smith attended several camps in the offseason, including one at Tennessee prior to the start of football practice. He is expected to be a highly recruited free safety next season.
“It went well with UT,” Smith said. “They invited me to come back to some of their games and said they would be coming to some of our games.”
Smith’s fitness allows him to play both on offense and defense. However, he has two capable backups in Rhett Stacey at quarterback and Tyler Black at free safety.
“That helps a lot,” Smith said. “They are both capable of taking over if they have to.”