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January 24, 2007

North notes: Smith takes next step

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MOBILE, Ala. Troy Smith refuses to dwell on the way his season ended.

"There was a degree of disappointment, but what can you do?" the Heisman Trophy winner said of Ohio State's 41-14 loss to Florida in the national championship game. "It's over. The champions are the champions now, and they deserve to be champions."

The only thing Smith can do about it now is play well enough in Senior Bowl practices this week to win the praise of NFL scouts all over again.

Smith's spectacular senior season at Ohio State made him one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects in the upcoming draft. Many preliminary mock drafts had Smith going on the first day with a chance to sneak into the first round if he played well against Florida.

He instead went 4-of-14 for 35 yards with an interception and was sacked more times than he completed a pass.

"The championship game definitely hurt his stock," said Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com, who lists Smith as the No. 75 prospect in the upcoming draft.

Smith insists he's not paying attention to how the championship game affected his position on various draft boards. This week is too important for him to waste his time worrying about the past.

"I block and tune all that stuff out," Smith said. "That's not what I need to deal with right now. I pretty much have an understanding that I control my own destiny. The things I'm doing now, the steps I'm taking, are hopefully positive ones. I pray every night. Hopefully things will go well."

Smith isn't the only person putting the championship game behind him.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden is coaching the North team that includes Smith. Gruden believes Smith shouldn't receive all of the criticism for his poor production against Florida.

"The Florida Gators were dominant that night," Gruden said. "It wasn't just Troy Smith's fault in the film I saw. He was running for his life. They weren't able to really counter some of the athleticism of the Gators on that particular night.

"Troy Smith gave Ohio State a chance every week. He was a big reason they were in that game, I can promise you that."

But the championship game allowed concerns about Smith's relative lack of height to resurface. Smith's listed height of 6 feet 1 is less than ideal and makes Coyle wonder whether the Heisman Trophy winner can earn a starting job in the NFL.

Then again, the recent success of shorter quarterbacks such as Drew Brees and Rex Grossman might make teams more willing to take a chance on someone like Smith.

"He's got a good arm," Coyle said. "He's got a real nice delivery. And his accuracy and leadership are good. In the right setting, I think he could be OK, but I think Troy Smith needs a situation where everything has to be right for him the right offense. If you put him in an offense where there's not a little movement in the pocket, there are going to be problems because of his height."

Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny said he's enjoying the experience of practicing under pro coaches.

He knows the reputation of Tampa Bay Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and Posluszny is trying to soak up as much as he can.

"The whole defense is extremely new to me and a lot different than anything we ran at Penn State," Posluszny said. "I'm learning the terminology, and it's a very aggressive scheme. They want you coming forward and getting into people."

Posluszny said he has been working on some technique things, particularly staying low and using his hands against offensive linemen.

The latest in a long line of Nittany Lions All-American linebackers, he said he has talked with a lot of NFL teams and doesn't care where he winds up. He has made a fan in Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.

"He'll come up and hit you," Gruden said. "He's a smart, aggressive guy. I'll tell you this, he can play for me any day."

Posluszny has signed with agent Mike McCartney of Priority Sports. McCartney also represents former Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, the first LB taken in last year's draft.

You may not know it, but the NFL landscape is littered with offensive linemen from Boston College. The Eagles' superiority on the line is such that BC was named Interior Lineman U by Rivals.com in a series of stories last year leading up to the NFL Draft.

The North squad at the Senior Bowl features a pair of players who hope to continue the tradition, Josh Beekman and James Marten.

Both have played well here, with Marten playing some at right tackle for the first time in his career. He started every game his sophomore and junior seasons at left guard before moving to left tackle this season.

"It's just been a couple of days, but the coaches tell me I'm doing well," said Marten, who's listed at 6 feet 8 and 307 pounds. "I just want to play. It doesn't matter to me where coaches want me."

Both players admit a comfort level having each other alongside.

"Having Jim here is a great asset for me because we key on each other to be real energized, to really go after the play and to hustle," said Beekman, who's 6-2, 314. "This game is about getting after it till the whistle is blown and doing the job you're supposed to do."

Beekman figures his taller counterpart will benefit from playing all along the line.

"It's just showing your adaptability," Beekman said. "That's what you need in college and the pros. You want to be able to play as many positions as possible. It just expands your knowledge. If you know it from the left side to the right side, you just know the offense a little better."

Fresno State wide receiver Paul Williams was preparing for the East-West Shrine Game last week when he got a call from his agent.

"He asked if I was up for a trip to Alabama," Williams said.

That's how Williams ended up as a late addition to the North roster. Williams replaced Notre Dame's Jeff Samardzija, who is giving up football to pursue a baseball career in the Chicago Cubs organization.

This represents one more chance for Williams to prove he's better than his 2006 season indicated.

Williams caught 43 passes for 729 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, but he had just 21 catches for 229 yards and one touchdown last fall. Williams said a sprained left medial collateral ligament and left ankle bothered him most of the season, though he has returned to full strength.

"Playing in this game was really important because I didn't have the season I wanted to," Williams said. "I kind of had to show everybody I was OK and back to 100 percent."

Williams already showed his big-play ability last week when he caught a long pass and raced about 40 yards into the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown in the East-West Shrine Game.

The two players from Iowa on the North squad, tight end Scott Chandler and offensive lineman Marshal Yanda, took some grief during Tuesday's practice because their helmets had yet to arrive.

During Wednesday's practice, they had on the familiar black helmets with the gold Hawkeye.

"It definitely feels better to have my helmet," Yanda said. "You've got it broken in the way you want, so it makes a difference."

One scout said he wasn't impressed with the running backs for either of the teams. Wide receiver Aundrae Allison of East Carolina had a couple of highlight-reel catches, including a one-handed grab with Leon Hall of Michigan draped all over him. "I'm just trying to pick up the offense and learn as much as I can," Allison said. "My big thing is working on route-running." An AFC scout touted the play of Michigan linebacker David Harris during Wednesday's practice.

Click here for more Rivals.com coverage of the Senior Bowl.

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