Habits, particularly those involving rainbow-colored bite-size candies, are often not altered with ease. Georgia Tech safety Demond Smith is struggling through this sugar-intake adjustment, confessing that his candy consumption needs to be curbed.
“I really don’t have a favorite, but I always have Skittles,” Smith said.
Smith has offered a warmer embrace to another transition, though – his move from nickel back to safety, where he will start for the Yellow Jackets in the season opener Thursday against Alcorn State. He started 10 games at safety as a sophomore in 2013, then moved to nickel back in 2014 when both Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Golden returned from injuries.
Smith made the nickel spot work, starting 10 games (including two at safety) and contributing 73 tackles, third most on the team. But, with Johnson graduated, Smith has shifted back to safety. Golden, his partner at safety, called him a “dark horse” for the defense.
“He’s a guy that’s going to make some plays for us, and I think people should watch out for him this year,” he said.
The switch has favored Smith with something a multiplier effect in benefits. A senior from Monroe, Smith stands to gain from the experience of having started two years in defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s scheme. It is a common thread for Tech’s defense, which returns eight starters and is expected to show considerable improvement from last season. Further, he’s going back to a position where he has felt more comfortable.
“I feel like I can see everything,” Smith said. “And I just get it. I’m moving faster, playing faster. The game’s slowed down.”
The nickel back position proved too close to the line of scrimmage for Smith. He adjusted as the year went on, but “everything happened so fast,” he said. However, Smith said, playing nickel “helped me understand the whole concept of the defense."
It is not the first time that a position change has worked to Smith’s gain. He arrived as a freshman in 2011 as a quarterback/defensive back in the same class as, among others, former quarterback Vad Lee. Smith was moved from quarterback to defensive back in the first few days of that camp, but then served as the team’s scout-team quarterback for the season.
Among his acting credits that season was the role of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd; Smith’s portrayal that week helped the Jackets upset then-No. 5 Clemson. For Smith, running the opposition’s offense helped him understand passing routes and teams’ offensive concepts, knowledge he has later applied.
For instance, the Tigers offense with former offensive coordinator Chad Morris ran what Smith called “a lot of eye-candy routes. They do a lot of motion to get you off.”
Playing alongside noted Tech defensive backs such as Jemea Thomas, D.J. White, Johnson and Golden, Smith has not gained significant attention in three seasons. Perhaps that will be one more change for Smith.
“He’s played a lot,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I expect him to be one of our better players.”