Kansas tight end Trent Smiley says his mother enjoys watching him knock defensive linemen to the ground.
Then again, if he was ever to catch a touchdown pass for the Jayhawks …
“She’d probably cry,” Smiley said with a laugh. “That’s the mom thing to do.”
After earning the reputation as a blocking tight end in his first two seasons, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Smiley believes work with his route-running and hands will help him become a more complete player in 2013.
Mostly, the junior would like to become a bigger threat as a pass-catcher.
“It’s definitely something that when I came in, I wasn’t as strong in, I would say,” Smiley said. “I’ve really tried to improve on that.”
Teammates have noticed.
Fellow tight end Jimmay Mundine says he’s seen a different player this year in both one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills.
A big improvement: Mundine said Smiley is now “stacking the safety,” which means he is positioning his body correctly in front of the defender to shield him off at the end of a route.
“Me doing little things like that could be the difference between last year not catching a ball,” Smiley said, “and this year catching who knows how many.”
Smiley says having Mundine by him has been “invaluable” for his progression. Mundine — more of a pass-catching tight end at 6-2, 242 — often gives receiving feedback on the sidelines during practices and games.
“As we start telling him more things to do, he’s actually going out on the field when he’s in there and implementing those things,” Mundine said. “So that’s good. You know he’s getting better.”
Of course, KU is unlikely to steer Smiley too far away from his blocking strength.
Some of his best highlights have come on “wham” blocks. Oftentimes, that happens when Smiley is lined up in the backfield and makes a full-force block on a nose tackle, who isn’t expecting a hit after the offensive linemen allow him a free release.
“He’s just coming out of nowhere and just blowing (the defender) up,” Mundine said. “He’s really good and powerful, especially when he gets low and uses his hands.”
KU tight end coach Jeff Blasko also says one of Smiley’s greatest strengths is his versatility.
During goal-line situations — when KU is putting two or three tight ends on the field — Smiley is able to play the F, X, Y or Z positions.
This flexibility allows KU a lot of options. With Smiley’s strong blocking skills, he potentially could be a pulling fullback. Or if KU wanted a bit of deception, he could block for a run on the left side even if two other two tight ends are on the right side.
“He understands our offense very well, and he works hard,” Blasko said. “I’m glad we have him.”
Though Smiley’s goal-line contributions often lead to touchdowns, he still has visions of getting at least one of his own.
After playing in every game in the last two seasons, Smiley has caught just one career pass — an eight-yard reception against Texas in 2011.
“I take pride in being able to be the one blocking for James (Sims) or Tony (Pierson) or any one of those guys. But yeah, I’d like to be in the end zone celebrating, having the ball in my hand,” Smiley said. “I think mom would appreciate it.”