West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith addresses the Big 12 media Tuesday in Dallas.
DALLAS - It's hard not to notice the change in Geno Smith. It's apparent right from the time he walks into a room full of people, which he did more than a few times Tuesday during the Big 12's football media event here.Everyone wants to talk about the mental improvement West Virginia's senior quarterback is expected to make after spending a year in Dana Holgorsen's offensive system. And, indeed, that's expected to be significant - so much so that a guy who set a slew of school passing records a year ago is being counted on to improve even more.That is such an accepted fact that he was chosen as the Big 12's preseason player of the year before ever taking a snap in the league.That's not the change that's so noticeable on the surface, however. It's Smith's size and cut that command attention now just a week before West Virginia's players report for preseason camp.
The skinny kid who threw for 4,385 yards and 35 touchdowns last season? He's been replaced by a 6-foot-3, 225-pound rock who looks like he could step into an NFL camp instead of a college one and fit right in.And, truth be told, that's entirely the reason for the change. Smith abhors running the football, so he's not getting bigger and stronger in order to become like Shawn Alston, WVU's bruising tailback. And he's never been one to worry much about shedding tacklers in the pocket."Other than it probably makes me a better NFL prospect, I don't think it does much for my game,'' Smith said. "Maybe I'll feel different and maybe I won't.''
But it certainly can't hurt, right?"I've never been big on shedding guys. I don't break a lot of tackles,'' Smith said. "I'm not one of those guys who's going to sit here and say my game is all based on my physical talent. It's mostly mental. I do have talent and I am a guy who's athletic and can get outside the pocket. But I'm not Shawn Alston and I'm not trying to be [Baylor's Heisman Trophy-winning] Robert Griffin. I'm just going to be Geno Smith.''Just a bigger, stronger version. While Holgorsen has no problem with that - he encouraged Smith's body building - it wasn't with any specific goal in mind."We haven't won a game this year yet so I don't know if it does us any good or not,'' Holgorsen said of Smith's added strength and bulk. "But it's not going to hurt.''
That Smith, after three years at West Virginia, is finally beginning to look the part of an NFL quarterback off the field as well as on might surprise some. Holgorsen said he's talked to people who have known Smith for years and wondered if he would ever bulk up."He's always been a guy - and he's been this way forever - that bounces up and down through the halls with a ball in his hands, but he never wanted to pick up a weight. That's just the way he's been,'' Holgorsen said. "He'd rather look in there and watch film than to get down [to the weight room] and do push-ups. But he physically needed to get a little bit bigger.''Again, perhaps not for his final year of college, but beyond. And it can't hurt in college."You look at Andrew Luck. He's a pretty big specimen,'' Holgorsen said of the NFL's top draft pick out of Stanford, who is 6-4 and 235 pounds. "Look at Robert Griffin (6-2, 223) and [Oklahoma State's] Brandon Weeden (6-4, 221). The NFL's going to judge you on measurables. So if the NFL's in Geno's future it's probably a pretty good idea.''
Getting bigger, of course, isn't the only key to advancement beyond the college game. Smith also spent time this summer away from Morgantown studying the game and his position.He went to two quarterback camps as a counselor this month, the Elite 11 camp in California just last week and the Manning Passing Academy with Peyton and Eli Manning in Louisiana before that. Smith won't talk about specifics, but he says he learned some things from the Mannings "that I'm going to implement in my game this year.''"It's all about the mental side of football, all about the professional side of it, making sure I'm a professional on and off the field,'' Smith said. "It's about studying this game as much as I can and improving on what I've been doing.''As for his size, Smith said last year he lost weight during the season and doesn't want that to happen again. But even if it does, losing from 225 is better than losing from 215."In the Orange Bowl I finished the season around 205, 207, just because I'd lost some weight. I started at about 215 and lost the weight during the season,'' said Smith, who joked that he hadn't been eating that much more, at least until arriving in Dallas on Monday. "Now I'm going in around 225. I've been working extremely hard in the weight room.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.