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Better Know the Jacksonville Jaguars: An Interview with QB Paul Smith

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As previously previewed , Tulsa Golden Hurricane Paul Smith is one of four quarterbacks on the Jaguars roster.  While the top two spots in the Jaguars rotation is without doubt, there is a weakness in the long-term development of a new signal caller.  While David Garrard has very low miles for his age, Cleo Lemon is neither a development for the future nor a suitable backup for the next several years.  Part of building a team is to keep an eye three to four years ahead.  In this case, the signing of Paul Smith as an undrafted free agent just might be the Jaguars "jar on the shelf" at the most premium of premium positions.

I recently had the chance to talk with Paul Smith.  He is by far the most engaging of all the players I've had the chance to interview, and we talked for quite some time.  Unfortunately, the answers to my first few questions was lost due to my inability to properly use my voice recorder. 

First off, I would like to thank Paul Smith and Mark Slough of Merge Sports for setting up the Interview.

The Interview:

When I do player interviews, however rarely, I like to pre-write my questions and have an idea of where the conversation will go.  I also get a little bit of anxiety as trying to sound coherent as I ask these questions can get a little overwhelming.  Frankly, it's why I prefer email interviews, though through conversation there tends to be better results.

Talking with Paul Smith was pretty easy, we began with light conversation as I struggled to connect my recorder to my phone.  Once I thought things were set, I began with a tricky question:

"Todd Graham, Tulsa's head coach, recently mentioned after their spring game that they "designed a system" around your ability and playing style: What does a team do as a scheme to put you in the best position to win games?"

This, sadly, is an abridged answer, as his reply was not recorded.  Paul described the system at Tulsa as one that allowed him the freedom to change the play at the line of scrimmage based on what he saw.  The open lines of communication between Smith, Head Coach Graham, and Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn allowed for Paul the freedom to succeed at Tulsa.

Another thing you should know about Paul Smith is that his road to the Jaguars was not the easiest.  The Golden Hurricanes final game of the season was the day before the National Championship on January 6th, Paul had to report to Hawaii for the Hula Bowl on January 7th:

Tulsa had the second to longest season in the nation.  I think our first game was the college opener and then we played the day before the national championship.  We played a lot of football this year, but believe it or not I'm excited about getting  back on the field and getting going again.

I asked him, "Preparing for the NFL is never easy, but you had a particularly intense month of January.  Why were you able to perform so well despite the pressure?

Again, the exact quote is lost, but Paul described his drive to be where he is today, on a NFL Roster, as what kept him going.

Finally, we talked about the role of character in the NFL and if athletes should be considered role models.  Paul Smith, as you might know, was honored with the Wuerffel Trophy, given to the athlete that best combines community service with athletic and academic achievement as well as as being a finalist for the Draddy Award, largely considered to be the Academic Heisman.

The first part of the answer, sadly not recorded, covered the role of faith and wittnessing in Paul's success.  Paul gives credit to his lord and savior and believes that doing good works includes being a positive role model. 

Paul Smith: I remember being on the sidelines of College games and wanting to be like them.  I wasn't around any NFL guys but I definitely  wanted to be like a lot of them.  So I knew if I ever got the opportunity to do this I wanted to be one of the guys the little kids wanted to be like

Big Cat Country: What was draft weekend like for you?

Paul Smith: I didn't have any expectations, thankfully,[Laughs] because if I did they probably wouldn't have been met because you know everybody that comes off a successful career hopes to be drafted.   And so, of course I hoped to be drafted.  Listening to analysts and critics and friends and family, that's just going to make you feel even more that there's a spot that you should be taken and anything worse than that is a negative.  I've  really tried to stay open minded about it and knew that none of it is in my hands so there's no need to worry about it.

So end result, I could not be more happier.  I know Coach Koetter and Coach Shula could tell you the same because ever since the combine.  It's funny, the events leading up to the combine and coming thereafter have really kind of guided my path to Jacksonville. It's just funny that the relationships that i have with people that have relationships with people on that coaching staff and know people from Jacksonville.  It's just funny how the chips, you know, end up in a row.  I'm really pleased with where I'm at now.  I've told a lot of people that were telling me that they thought I was going to be drafted between in the 4th and 6th rounds.  I've told a lot of them that I feel that I'm in the same situation if Jacksonville would have drafted me in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th rounds, I'm coming in there, I'm trying to make the team, I'm trying to prove I can play on this level.  Other than the money that comes in the signing bonus, I'm in the no different situation.  Luckily I'm grounded enough to know that money isn't the answer to everything.

I'm very happy with having the opportunity to come in and try and make that team, you know, learn from the guys that are there.  Everything that I've heard about Coach Del Rio and having met coach Koetter and Coach Shula and know people that are connected to them, I couldn't be more excited.

Big Cat Country: Quarterback Coach Cunerty, who you trained with in your pre-combine time, bragged about you to Dirk Koetter just after the  Combine.  What has your interaction been like with the Jaguars coaching staff? Have you been to Jacksonville yet?

Paul Smith: I have not been to Jacksonville yet, Right now I'm scheduled to come on Thursday may 15th. There's a luncheon at Jacksonville Stadium that Danny Wuerffel actually called me about.  I've maintained a relationship with him.  he runs a ministry called Desire Street Ministries that is having a big luncheon at the Stadium.  Either way Wednesday or Thursday will be my first trip to Jacksonville.

Big Cat Country: What happens when you agree to sign?  Do you get a playbook right away? 

Paul Smith: I'm not sure how much they sent other guys or if at all.  They've sent everyone a packet with a letter from Coach Del Rio with a schedule and what to expect.  Upcoming schedule, what we should bring, stuff that the rookies need to know. 

Big Cat Country: Was it relieving to see that the Jaguars released quarterback Lester Ricard shortly after your signing?  Is it reassuring to know that you're coming into a team that has a clear role for developing a number three quarterback?

Paul Smith: Yeah, there's been some people commenting to me on that.  I'll never shy away from competition, but I don't think it hurts anyones feelings when the competition contains less numbers.  I'm definitely excited about coming in there and like I said, trying to prove my worth and show that this is a good investment on their part to bring me in as a free agent.  I'm very excited to be the underdog.   I'm very excited, believe it or not, to not get drafted and to have an opportunity to come in.  Even though Jacksonville didn't draft me, they were talking to me on the phone throughout  the 5th, 6th and 7th round the whole time, talking to coach Shula and even Coach Koetter some on draft day about their situation and how they still wanted me.  That meant a lot to me, so thats why out of the  10 or 12 teams that showed interest at the end of the draft, that's why I chose to come to Jacksonville.  Because I felt that I had the best opportunity there and also that it'd be the best fit for me, not just as far as playing time, but in that I'd fit the best.

I'm excited about being the underdog and coming in there and competing, getting on the field again.

Big Cat Country: Tell us about the origins of the Golden Hurricane.

Paul Smith: You can say that I'm just as confused as everyone else on the issue of the Golden Hurricane.  One of only two universities that have a singular title.  Goes along with team unity, no individuals, we are one hurricane, even though hurricanes don't exist here, but whatever. {Laughs}

Big Cat Country: What quarterbacks would you compare yourself to?  I've seen names like Jeff Garcia or Drew Brees tossed around, though a lot of comparisons are made based on height and size, which as I've said before, is a lousy way to grade a quarterback.

Paul Smith: I try not to do that.  The only reason I say that is because people are going to try and interpret what you say and I don't feel arrogant enough to even throw any names out there.  Everyone I compare myself to is successful in the NFL Cause you don't want to compare yourself to a flop or someone that didn't play for more than a couple years. I don't mind saying that I don't like comparing myself to anyone right now, cause they've proved themselves and I'm just trying to be like them and become like them.

Names that I do hear, Drew Brees.  People have talked about that.  The ability to make things happen with their feet.  I try and do that.  I try and go through my reads I still try and keep everything the same, but instead of throwing the ball away or crawling forward for a two yard gain I try and keep my eyes down-field and make things happen.  People have compared that to Tony Romo,  I try and play similar to that, I'm not going to improvise when it's not needed, but when things break down I like to try to keep a play alive.  Not to a point where it will become detrimental.  You won't see me take a three step drop and taking off sideways, I really try to stay within the boundaries of the system.  That's what helped me (at Tulsa).  Your instincts and your abilities have to take over at some point and that's what's helped me out.  It's the ability to make things happen when there is not much there.  I don't like comparing myself to the successful guys, they're worth more than I am as a college quarterback.

Big Cat Country: Final thoughts?

Paul Smith: I heard people talking about Tom Brady being drafted in the 7th round and him telling the owner this was the best decision that the organization has ever made.  I guess I'm one step below the 7th round, being a free agent, but I really feel like, I can say the same thing.  I want to tell somebody that this was the best decision that they could have made for a quarterback this year and hopefully it works out that it's the best decision they've made as an organization.  Without being arrogant, you have to have the confidence to want to come in there to compete and  succeed

I have seven chips on my shoulder.

There you go, a little insight into our newest quarterback.  He's certainly an intriguing prospect, and he probably has the easiest road to the 53 man roster.  More so even than some of our draft picks, now that I think about it.  The Jaguars have operated with only two starting quarterbacks in the past, but with Smith as a legitimate developmental player, and one that would be quickly signed were we to put him on the practice squad.

I, frankly, am all about Paul as a future number two for the Jaguars.  Following along with the many position battles in mini-camp and training camp will be interesting this year, but we can expect to see Paul Smith guiding the offense in a preseason game or two.

Your thoughts?