Another junior, Joe Schuler, has also impressed the coach. "He has really changed the look of his body. He's not carrying much body fat now. He's really cut. He could be ready for a really big year," Smith said.
Of course, he's just as happy with sophomore Johnny Williams, who struggled to learn the system last year, and sophomore Ben McGrath, who played well after a season-ending knee injury to middle linebacker Braxton Kelley. "Braxton is looking good, too. We are being careful with him, but he's just a natural player," Smith said.
Obviously, the same can be said for Fort Campbell freshman Micah Johnson, who is expected to challenge Kelley for playing time at middle linebacker. However, Smith also likes freshmen Sam Maxwell and Brandon Thurmond.
"All three are very athletic and are really going to make a lot of noise during their careers," Smith said. "It just depends on how well they learn the system and how fast they are able to pick up things. They look the part because they are all big, fast and strong.
"Sam sat out a year with academics, but he has size (6-2, 225 pounds) and I really like how hard he ran when I watched his tapes. He's explosive and has a desire to hit. He is a headhunter type and is eager to learn.
"Brandon played defensive end and had his hand on the ground most of his high school career kind of like Braxton did. But what impressed me is his nose for the football. Braxton's biggest asset is his instinct. Brandon possesses the same kind of instincts. He gets to the football one step ahead of everybody else.
"They are all physical. Brandon and Sam aren't as big as Micah, but they can play. It's just nice to have so many options with the younger guys as well as the older guys. I really like our athleticism and I'm just excited to see what this group will be able to do this year because I really have high expectations for them."