ATLANTA - Last season, DeAndre Smelter turned into Georgia Tech’s top wide receiver with only a summer of workouts and a month of preseason camp.
Smelter now has 15 spring practice sessions to work more intensively on his craft.
“I just want to improve overall, whether that’s running routes, whether that’s mentally, physically, everything,” Smelter said Wednesday after the Yellow Jackets’ second practice of the spring.
Smelter was the Jackets’ surprise of the 2013 season after deciding to join the football team following three lackluster seasons as a pitcher on the baseball team. Recruited by the likes of Tech and Georgia for football out of high school in Macon, Smelter first just wanted to make the travel roster. He did a little better than that, not only making the trip for Tech’s first road game, but catching two touchdowns in a win over Duke.
Smelter finished the season with 21 catches — second on the team and most among receivers — for 345 yards. His four touchdown catches led the team.
The physical skills — the hands, the body control, the ability to out-position cornerbacks to get the ball — were obvious. But even before spring practice began, wide receivers coach Buzz Preston played video clips for Smelter from the past season that showed him how he can get better.
“Just little things about route running, stuff to help me create space, help me get open,” Smelter said. “Some things blocking-wise. He’s really told me to get in the film room. I’ve been in there a lot. I’ve been putting in a lot of work. I’m eager to see how it goes.”
In spring practice, Preston wants to see Smelter develop the mental aspect of the position. Namely, improving at reading defenses and adjusting his routes accordingly.
If a defense switches from playing two backs in zone coverage to three, a receiver (and the quarterback) needs to instantly recognize the change and know what route to run. Or, if a cornerback plays press coverage at the line, a receiver has to use techniques to elude the cornerback and get downfield.
“Just subtle things that once you master them, you anticipate them better and react to them better when they happen,” Preston said.
Smelter will be able to dedicate himself fully to football, as he decided in early March to give up baseball, his first love. Smelter had shoulder trouble his first three seasons, but said it felt better this season, and he had two promising appearances before informing baseball coach Danny Hall that he was leaving the team.
“It was kind of building,” Smelter said of his decision. “Just talking with my family and everything, we were just trying to decide what’s best for my future, what’s best for me and what’s best for them.”
Smelter said he didn’t feel the same “want-to” with baseball that he felt in the football season. He believes his professional prospects are now better with football than baseball, but said he is not thinking about that.
“I’m just going out and enjoying my last year because you start thinking about too much into the future, you forget what’s in the present,” he said.
For Smelter, that would be slipping away from pressing cornerbacks and learning to find the soft spots in zone coverages.