DeVonta Smith earns his time in the spotlight

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DeVonta Smith earns his time in the spotlight

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

The trio of junior wide receivers for the Crimson Tide drew national media attention this summer when fans and critics alike debated whether they are the best wide receiver corps in the country. 

The group of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith had an impressive resume after last season. In 2018, the receivers tallied a combined 2,749 receiving yards and added 31 touchdowns, resulting in over half of the team’s receiving offense.

On top of the numbers, each receiver had a memorable game or moment that introduced themselves to the national stage. For instance, Jeudy made four LSU defenders look silly after a juke by the sidelines made them look like they were wearing ice skates. In the same game, Ruggs elevated to make a one-handed grab over LSU’s Greedy Williams, arguably the Tigers’ best outside corner. 

However, the player receiving the least amount of limelight among the three is Smith. After catching the pass that clinched the national championship for Alabama in 2017, Smith had a relatively quiet 2018 season. 

Despite gaining the least amount of national attention, Smith had his moment in the spotlight in the Crimson Tide’s matchup with South Carolina last Saturday.  

“I would definitely say he’s been overlooked, but more so by you guys in the media,” Ruggs said. “We know what he can do. We’re brothers with him in the [receivers] room. We see him practicing. With the group we have, you never know who is going to make plays, who is going to have a big game. Obviously, [South Carolina] was his game. We know he can make plays. We know that at any moment any guy can have a big game. It happens he had that big game last week.”

Smith had a career game against the Gamecocks on Saturday. The Louisiana native racked up 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns, both new career highs. In three games, Smith now has recorded three touchdowns and is already halfway to his total from last year.

Smith got open over the middle of the field throughout the game as South Carolina was committed to stopping Alabama’s run game. Junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa rewarded him with 12 targets.

“Smitty had a really good game, and I think he’s very capable, plays with a lot of toughness,” coach Nick Saban said. “He’s a good blocker. He’s very competitive and a good special teams guy, too. He contributes to the team in a lot of different ways that people don’t even sometimes realize, I think.”

Smith’s competitiveness and toughness were on full display throughout the game, but especially on his 42-yard touchdown. 

After blowing by two South Carolina defensive backs, Smith broke toward the Gamecock logo and hauled in a Tagovailoa pass that was low and behind him. Without breaking stride, the receiver tucked the ball away, avoided the diving tackle from the safety and coasted to the end zone. 

“It’s rare that you see the first person tackle all of us,” Smith said. “So when we catch the ball, that’s what we expect. No way the first person is going to tackle us.”

Smith also displayed his ability to make tough catches while defenders attempt to jar the ball loose. Ruggs said that wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins works on the receivers’ strength each week as he uses whatever he can to try and free the ball from the players grasp.

Smith takes this a step further by doing pushups on his fingertips, developing what Ruggs called the best hands on the team.

“That’s probably the only thing I can say I do,” Smith said. “Other than that, I feel like I was just gifted with them.”

Although great catching ability is a necessity for wide receivers, they can make even bigger plays by racking up yards after the catch. He said a few weeks ago that he is more of a threat when the ball is in the air than when it’s in his arms, but he has added more open-field ability to his game.

“Coach Wiggins brought this to my eyes: In the open field, stop trying to be a magnet to the safety and try to make more people miss,” Smith said. “[Jukes are] just things that I did in high school, and I just feel like I should bring that back out instead of run[ing] through everybody.”

Smith continues to set his sights on becoming a complete wide receiver. Whether or not that brings more media attention, the junior wide receiver continues to prepare for each challenge as it arises.  

“I don’t feel like I’m being overshadowed,” Smith said. “The chips fall where they’re supposed to fall. Based on the game plan, it don’t matter who it is, it’s just all about who we [are] playing and what they do. It can be any week. It can be me. It can be [freshman Jaylen Waddle]. It can be Ruggs. It can be Jeudy. So, it just depends on what the game plan is.”