Smith adds spark to WKU’s defensive line in new 4-3 scheme

Zach Greenwell

This story was originally published Aug. 19, 2010.

Sophomore defensive end Quanterus Smith has started to give junior Jared Clendenin a run for his money.

Fortunately for the Western defense, they both have the same goal in mind.

After defensive coordinator Clint Bowen was hired in the spring and adopted a 4-3 defense, Smith, an outside linebacker last year, was brought up to the line opposite Clendenin.

“Q is fast and quick off that ball,” Clendenin said. “It’s going to be a race to that quarterback this year. That’s going to motivate me more to get back there. If they double me, he’ll have a single. If they double him, I’ll have a single, so we’ll both get opportunities.”

The position change is one that Smith said has made him feel at home. The Loganville, Ga., native played defensive end in high school but optimistically moved back to linebacker when he arrived at Western.

“I kind of wanted to play linebacker when I first got here, and I didn’t really like it,” Smith said. “It might have just been the defense last year, but I like defensive end better – putting your hand in the dirt.”

Smith played in all 12 games and made two starts as a redshirt freshman last season, recording 12 tackles.

But with the move to the defensive line, Head Coach Willie Taggart said Smith has the chance to take his game to a whole new level by utilizing his 6-foot-5, 239-pound frame.

“He’s a got a lot of speed off that edge, and that puts a lot of pressure on the offensive tackle when you’ve got the speed and you’ve got the arm leverage to do a lot of other things,” Taggart said. “He’s gotten a lot stronger. It’s a perfect position for him there, because he’s so athletic.”

Smith is officially listed on the first fall depth chart as a starter at the “LEO” position, which traditionally means a defensive end-linebacker hybrid.

Bowen said that Smith wouldn’t necessarily be as much of a hybrid player in the 4-3, but that his linebacker-like speed would give him a chance to do many different things.

“Right now, Q is playing every down,” Bowen said. “He’s a not special guy or just a third-down guy or anything like that. His job on first down is to anchor down and stop the run, and if it hits third down, he’s hands down a guy that can rush the QB and has that ability.

“If it hits third down, we’ve got to find ways to give him the best advantage he can to get to the quarterback, because he has the ability to do that.”

Several players on defense have praised the new defensive scheme because it takes away the mismatch up front and allows instincts to take over. Couple that with fewer reads, and Smith said the position switch has been smooth sailing.

“I would say the difference to me is just the coverage part,” Smith said. “You’ve got a lot more responsibility playing linebacker than you do at end. It’s a lot less on your mind to think about. You just go out there and play ball, really.”

Bowen said that Clendenin and Smith, along with fellow defensive end Bo Adebayo, have to anchor a front that will use a rotation of defensive tackles. Being efficient with your line can be the biggest payoff of the scheme, he said.

“If you can get to the quarterback with four guys, it changes the game of football,” Bowne said. “It’s key. If you’ve got to bring a fifth guy, obviously it starts opening weaknesses somewhere else, so if those guys can get there with four of them, it’ll really help us defensively.”

Smith has been one of Western’s most complimented players in camp so far, shining with both his speed and ability to, as Taggart put it, “just dominate.”

But Bowen said the sophomore has been working to add new dimensions to his rush technique, because raw athleticism can only take you so far.

“He’s learning a few pass rush moves and trying to get more than one thing,” he said. “Right now he’s a speed rusher and that’s what he can do, but he’s got to start getting a couple of changeups off of that. He’ll give some offensive tackles some problems.”

Clendenin and Smith both said that playing opposite each other has helped create a rivalry and a friendship between them.

If they continue to add fuel to that competitive fire, Taggart said there’s no reason why both can’t end up on the Sun Belt All-Conference list.

“It takes a little pressure off everybody,” Taggart said. “They can’t just protect Jared. They’ve got to protect Q too. It’s great when you’ve got two guys you can depend on to put pressure on the quarterback, and it’s hard for a team to just use a back or someone else to help out on the block.

“If both of those guys keep coming, they have the potential to be really good.”

The Toppers can use the increased pressure from their defense.  Western had just 10 sacks all of last year, compared to 39 from their opponents.

So with a new scheme and new optimism, who’s going to get to the quarterback first this fall?

Clendenin admitted that Smith has him beat in pure speed, but Smith joked that they come as a team.

“We slap hands when we get (to the quarterback),” he said, laughing. “We get there at the same time.”