FAYETTEVILLE — Defensive end Chris Smith’s college career came to an end with Arkansas’ 31-27 loss at LSU last November.
It was a frustrating conclusion to a 3-9 season. It certainly wasn’t the way Smith or any one of the other seniors on the roster wanted to go out. But there’s some good news: Smith still has one more opportunity to prepare for and play in a game.
“It’s going to feel good to wear that Razorback helmet again,” Smith said. “It’s the last time so we’ve got to put on a show.”
Smith, along with Arkansas teammate Travis Swanson, has traveled to Mobile, Ala., where they will participate in Senior Bowl festivities this week. Both former Razorbacks have been assigned to the South squad, which will be led by the Jacksonville Jaguars staff this week. But they’ll have the opportunity to practice and perform in front of scouts, coaches and general managers from every NFL team.
The high-profile job interview — which also includes meeting time with NFL representatives — is regarded as one of the most prestigious events leading up to the NFL Draft every year. Smith said he’s thankful for the invitation and is looking forward to making the most of the opportunity.
“It’s a busy process, but at the same time it’s going to be fun,” Smith said. “I’m just going up there and trying to get better, trying to improve my draft stock. I look at it as playing the game. I love to play. Even though it’s the biggest job interview of my life, I’m playing the game I love to play. That’s one thing I’m going to keep on doing.”
Smith, who led Arkansas with 8 1/2 sacks in 2014 and is four on the school’s career list (21 ½ sacks), prepared for the Senior Bowl at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It’s the same place former quarterback Tyler Wilson went in preparation for the draft last season, but Smith said the place is loaded with linemen this year.
The 6-foot-3, 268-pound Smith has worked with a defensive line coach to fine-tune fundamentals and techniques to prepare for this week’s competition.
It also helped that he has worked against a pair of potential first-round picks in Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame’s Zach Martin.
“It’s competition and that makes you better,” Smith said. “That’s one reason why I wanted to train at IMG was to be with the best. … These guys are amazing.”
Smith left for Mobile on Saturday morning to begin his week.
Players will weigh in Monday morning before stepping on the practice field for the first of five days of work. The game will be played Saturday at 3 p.m.
Smith said he expects the South squad to work him as both a defensive end in a 4-3 defense and as an outside linebacker in a 4-3. He had some experience as a linebacker while at Arkansas when Paul Haynes was defensive coordinator in 2012.
Smith said he prepared for the possibility by doing drill work at both positions while at IMG. So he’s confidence he can show NFL personnel plenty in either role.
“I feel like I’m really versatile,” Smith said. “Wherever the team puts me at, I’m ready to play. I’ve been working at both linebacker drills and defensive end drills.”
Smith should get plenty of opportunities this week, joining a group of defensive ends that includes Auburn’s Dee Ford, Alabama’s Ed Stinson and Virginia’s Brent Urban.
Smith said he’s ready for the first phase of his job interview to begin.
“I think there’s going to be an opportunity to show those guys how you practice and how you compete,” Smith said. “But I think football is the easy part. How you can handle it mentally is the big part. That’s one thing, they’re going to try to test us mentally when we’re tired and put us in situation to see how we’re going to react. So that’s one thing that I’m just going to try to do, go down there and impress them.”
Hocker Shines In Shrine
Former Arkansas kicker Zach Hocker turned in an impressive performance in the East-West Shrine Game, which was played in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday.
The program’s career points leader went 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 56-yarder, during his team’s 23-13 win. He also went 2-for-2 on extra points and finished with 11 points.
The 56-yarder bested Hocker’s career-best at Arkansas, which was a 54-yarder last season.