Tight end Jonnu Smith good so far as Titans 'universal guy'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans have created a deceptive situation for Jonnu Smith in training camp.

The third-round, 6-foot-3, 248-pound tight end regularly stands beside others at the position. And next to Tim Semisch (6-8, 275), Jace Amaro (6-5, 265) and Phillip Supernaw (6-5, 255) ,Smith can actually look a bit small.

That he wears No. 81 doesn’t help either.

The most notable Titans who’ve worn the number in recent years were receivers, most of whom were not close to Smith’s thickness: Chris Sanders, Jake Schifino, Brandon Jones, Kevin Curtis and Andre Johnson.


“That tight-end room is a big room,” offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie said. “That’s a big, tall, good-looking, physical room. He fits in well. He looks short because a couple guys are 6-4, 6-5. But he’s got good size.”

The Titans are looking to Smith to play big and to play a big role in 2017. His practice work so far suggests he will be capable of contributing.

Monday night I watched him closely and saw him do these things:

--Come toward the middle in motion and cut into the middle of the line to take on linebacker Nate Palmer and help create room for a running back.

--Run a 15-yard route out of the slot and easily pull in a pass from Marcus Mariota who rolled out toward the same side of the field.

--Motion from the left side to the right on a fake end around, then stand up defensive end DaQuan Jones to allow Marcus Mariota to throw a screen left to Derrick Henry, who then ran for a TD of 70-yards plus.

--In one seven-on-seven period, he worked with receivers Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and Taywan Taylor as well as Henry. The first play he lined up wide right. The next snap he started where he would have been beside the right tackle if there was one. And on the third he lined up in the slot on the left, running at an angle across the middle.

--Later in a team period as he ran on the field, a coach corrected himself and adjusted positioning as Smith ran on the field, looking back to hear the adjusted instruction. He then stood up outside linebacker Brian Orakpo during a David Fluellen run up the middle.

It all looked pretty good.

“He’s been making strides, getting better understanding the philosophy of the offense,” said Delanie Walker, the team’s No. 1 tight end. “I’m excited to see what he does against a different opponent.”

Smith said he picks apart his game daily, but he's also getting good feedback from the tight end coach, Arthur Smith.

“I’m pretty hard on myself, so of course I always have some little nicks and knacks to pick on,” he said. “But talking to the coach, he’s telling me I’m doing some good things. That’s always good to hear.”

Many draft analysts forecasted Smith to be a Walker-type. Walker's a capable blocker, but it's not what he's asked to do most of the time as he's a big receiving threat. The Titans think Smith can do a good share of the in-line blocking work we saw from Anthony Fasano a year ago. The veteran moved onto Miami as a free agent.

“Would it be fast for him the first week? I think so,” Walker said. “With his mindset he’ll calm down and he’ll have it by the next week for sure.

Smith is also on the first team kick return unit and the second team kickoff, punt and punt return.

Robiskie said the Titans have managed to put a lot on Smith early.

“We’re kind of putting him everywhere, that’s the good thing about him, Jon’s kind of a universal guy,” he said. “He’s got three or four spots he’s got to learn for us. He’s coming along well. We’ve kind of overloaded him with some stuff, out a lot on his plate, but he’s responding well. He’s a smart guy.

“You know what happens with a smart guy? You give him a couple things, then you say, ‘Oh, he got that easy.’ Then you give him a couple more and then all of a sudden he’s not as smart as you think.

“We’ve got a lot of positions, a lot of shifts and motions that we’ve given him, and he’s handling it well. He’s had one or two mental errors here and there, but he’s handling it well.”

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