Titans' draft pick proves there are benefits to being an 'I' player

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 10:24pm

There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team but there is in Rusty Smith.

Actually, it’s the reverse. The Tennessee Titans’ rookie quarterback has been in the ‘I’ for all of his formative football years, which has a lot to do with the fact that he is just the second quarterback drafted by Tennessee in the past 11 years.

“My entire playing career I’ve been in a pro style offense,” he said. “A lot of high school and college teams are going to the spread. In high school I was in an ‘I’ and in college I was in an ‘I.’ So I’m used to taking drops from under center. I’m used to having to read coverages while dropping back. So it’s all natural to me because I’ve done it for so long.”

Smith, a three-year starter at Florid Atlantic, became the ninth of 15 quarterbacks taken in the recent 2010 NFL draft when the Titans chose him in the sixth round (176th overall).

That made him the first player in his school’s history ever selected. His presence also added a different element to the Titans’ rookie orientation last weekend as compared to recent ones.

Two years ago, the team did not have a rookie quarterback to work during passing drills. Last season, they had free agent only Alex Mortensen, who threw for fewer than 400 yards in his career and did not play as a senior.

Two of this year’s nine draft picks were used to select wide receivers – Damian Williams in the third round and Marc Mariani in the seventh round – and it figured that they – as well as two free agents – had a better chance to showcase themselves during three workouts in two days with someone who understood the basics of the pro style offense.

The last quarterback drafted before Smith – Vince Young in 2006 – arrived with serious questions about his delivery and his ability to take the snap from center and execute a drop-back.

“(Smith) threw the ball real well,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s played in a pro-style offense. He has been under center. Part of the reason we were so interested in drafting him is because the footwork is there, the release is there, the intelligence is there. I thought he threw the ball very well.”

The fact that he was the only one throwing did not seem to bother him either.

“I’m used to throwing a lot of passes,” Smith said. “The way (Florida Atlantic coach) Howard Schnellenberger runs his camps, I’m used to throwing a lot of balls.

Statistically, his best performance came in 2007 when he was a sophomore. That year he had career-highs in passing yards (3,688) and touchdown passes (32). He approached those standards as a junior (3,224 and 24) but not as senior, when an injury to his non-throwing shoulder forced him to miss the final five contests.

Even Smith’s best numbers, though, paled in comparison to last season’s top passer in college football, Houston’s Case Keenum, who threw for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns. Two others topped 4,000 passing yards.

Nontheless, he finished his career as FAU’s all-time leader in passing yards (10,112) and passing touchdowns (76).

“Some systems are geared more toward big numbers,” Smith said. “I wasn’t ever worried about that. I was worried about my team and helping my team win the best that I could.”