Finding Middle Ground

Nate Smith

Nate Smith admitted he enjoyed his time back at middle linebacker for this past Saturday's game against Army. The sophomore is hoping he'll have more chances in the future.

Nate Smith admitted he enjoyed his time back at middle linebacker for this past Saturday's game against Army. The sophomore is hoping he'll have more chances in the future.

The starter in the middle all last season and the second-leading tackler on the 2012 Owls, Smith found himself in the new coaching staff's doghouse this spring and was suspended for the Cherry and White Game.

He didn't earn his way into the good graces of coach Matt Rhule and the defensive staff in training camp either as true freshman Jarred Alwan started the opener against Notre Dame and sophomore Rob Dvoracek took over when he returned from a thumb injury.

Eventually, Smith found his way back onto the field – but at defensive end, where the Owls were battling injuries and ineffectiveness.

That is until Dvorack missed Saturday's game at Army and Smith moved back to middle linebacker, with Rhule saying in advance he thought Smith could have a good game there because he was more suited to playing the run – the Black Knights' strength.

Smith finished the game with nine tackles – seven solo – and returned a fumble for score and his first career touchdown.

"It felt pretty good, I missed it a little bit, I had some fun out there," said Smith when asked how he liked being back at linebacker. "Honestly I'd love to stay at linebacker, but wherever the team needs me I'm going to go and play the position. I just feel like at linebacker I have so much experience, and D-line they just moved me there and I don't know everything I should know, but wherever the team needs me I'm there."

Smtih's willingness to switch positions shows some of the attitude the coaches have wanted to see out of him. He admitted he needed to evaluate himself after the spring.

"You know what, I just had to take that time and focus on myself and get back to the way I was freshman year, get that hunger back," said Smith. "I kind of lost it, I admit it. That's not who I am and I got back to where I was and I'm glad I got back out there."

It remains to be seen where Smith will see the most snaps the rest of the way, but it is clear he'll be out on the field in some capacity. If he has success at linebacker against an SMU team that likes to throw the ball, he could be a permanent fixture in the middle again.

"I got really hands-on with inside linebackers this week and he's always been tremendous against run," said Rhule. "He went out as game captain and that shows his development and maturity. To be suspended for the spring game and go out as game captain in our first win shows he's buying in.

"He made a play, ran the ball back and would not come out of the game. Even at the end, he did not want to come out of the game and I'm proud of him."

The Owls' defense, which had struggled, shut out Army in the first half and dominated most of the game. It was a strong performance overall for a team which started 0-6 before Saturday's victory.

"This was a game to build our identity," said Smith. "It's about who we are. We got back to the way we used to play."

He could just as easily have been talking about himself.

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