TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Andre Smith set about trying to repair his reputation the same place he worked to build it: on Alabama’s practice field.
Smith worked out for representatives of every NFL team at the Crimson Tide’s pro day on Wednesday, doing drills the left tackle had skipped with an unannounced departure from the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
“I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of teams represented here,’” the Outland Trophy winner said.
And they all had similar questions for Smith in post-workout interviews, namely: Why did he bolt the combine on the day offensive linemen were supposed to participate in drills? His decision has drawn criticism and raised speculation about the damage to the draft stock of a player who some projected as the No. 1 overall pick.
“I just made a bad decision in leaving the combine,” Smith said. “If I had it to do all over again, I would handle it differently. I just made a bad decision in leaving, but I think I made a great football decision to get back and start working out with my trainer.”
Smith, who is skipping his senior season, also was suspended from the Sugar Bowl for violating unspecified team rules.
The 6-foot-4 Smith has slimmed down, weighing 325 pounds, which he called his lightest weight in three years.
He sprinted shirtless through a gauntlet of stopwatch-bearing NFL team officials and was clocked in drills along with several former Tide teammates. Smith was timed at 5.28 and 5.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash, managed a 25-inch vertical leap and bench-pressed 225 pounds 19 times, according to NFL.com. Smith declined to give his numbers.
“So many unknown questions because he didn’t do things at the combine,” said Pat Flaherty, offensive line coach for the New York Giants. “That’s why we’re here today, because we didn’t get to see him at the combine. All he can do and control right now is go forward. I met with him today, and that’s what I told him.”
Smith admitted he was nervous about the scrutiny Wednesday. He repeatedly said he has leaned on his faith to weather the criticism.
“It was difficult at the beginning, but I also have to realize I have a God who’s favored me throughout my career, so I just lean on God,” he said. “No one can take away what God has for me. That’s how I think about everything.”
Smith has been working out in Atlanta, pulling two-hour conditioning sessions three days per week with Chryste Gaines, who won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics as part of the women’s 4x100-meter relay. He also is working on footwork and position skills with former NFL tackle Tony Jones.
And he is trying to fix a reputation that has taken a hit.
“I’ll take a lot of the blame for it,” said Alvin Keels, Smith’s agent. “I’m the one who does this year in and year out, and this is his first time.”
Keels said the criticism caught Smith off guard.
“Any time the reaction is that harsh, athletes are somewhat surprised,” he said. “Oftentimes, when you’re a star athlete, there’s just so much good that’s written about you. They build you up. And when you make a mistake, they don’t realize how much a mistake is blown up as well. It was a learning experience, if nothing more. He’s definitely learned from it and is ready to move forward and make sure stuff like that doesn’t happen again.”