Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Derrell Smith has been a pleasant surprise for Syracuse this year on defense. The redshirt sophomore linebacker has 43 tackles, five of them for loss, an interception and a forced fumble as a first-year starter. Smith has been well-traveled, at least during his journey on the Orange roster. I caught up with Smith as he and his teammates prepared for Saturday's game against Louisville.
What's the mood of the team like now with being 1-6 and going through the bye week?
Derrell Smith: We're still trying to be positive. You've got to be optimistic in these situations. We know if we win out, we'll be bowl eligible, so that's what we have to focus on right now. The team is definitely positive, we're practicing hard and doing what we've got to do to win these last five.
Does beating Louisville last season give you confidence that you can do the same this year?
DS: Obviously, they don't have the same players or the same team they did last year, so we've just got to focus on this year and forget about the past. It does give you a little confidence because you've beat them before. But like I said, it's a whole new team, and they're 5-2. But just like every team in the country, I think, Louisville is beatable.
You've moved around several different positions since you arrived at Syracuse. Can you take us through how that went?
DS: Actually I was recruited here as a running back. I played running back my freshman year until the end of camp. Then I moved to strong safety. Then during spring ball I came back a little bigger, probably about 230, and I moved to will linebacker. Then at the end of spring ball, for the spring game, Delone Carter got hurt so I moved back to running back. Then last year, I played running back for the first two games of the season, against Washington and Iowa. Then I moved back to defense at mike linebacker. Last season, I actually got to play defensive end during nickel packages. And then spring ball this year, I moved to sam linebacker and that's where I'm at now. And then the last two games I've played defensive end.
Whew. Does all that moving around ever leave you confused?
DS: I think it actually helps you a little bit. Playing running back is actually good for playing linebacker, because you can kind of anticipate moves. And then playing defensive end, things come faster at you. Sam linebacker is kind of like a stand-up defensive end, so that got me used to it.
Did you play defense in high school?
DS: Actually, I did but I wasn't very good at it. I wasn't recruited at linebacker in high school. I wasn't really a defensive-minded guy. I could always tackle. I'm not going to say I saved myself in high school, but I wasn't always the most conditioned guy or the most in-shape person. But I've always been able to tackle. Defense is better in college because you just play defense. I can deal with playing just one position.
You've played defensive end the past two games. Is that just a part-time thing or a permanent switch?
DS: I actually played defensive end the whole game at West Virginia. At South Florida, we used it about 75 percent of the game. The West Virginia game was pretty good, but South Florida kind of had my number.
How much do you weigh now?
DS: I weigh 226.
That's not bad for a linebacker, but it's pretty light for a defensive end going against those big hogs on the offensive line, isn't it?
DS: It really is, I realized that when South Florida pushed me around. I was able to use my speed in some situations. Since I'm smaller for a defensive end, I was able to bend my knees so they couldn't push me that far away.
Without giving away any game plans, do you think you'll be playing more defensive end going forward?
DS: In our nickel, I'm always a defensive end. We run it depending on if a team is a passing team or a running team. But the 4-2-5 look -- we'll see. This week it's not really a big thing, but it's always there if we need it.
What's your favorite position to play out of all the ones you tried?
DS: If you come to college, everybody wants to play running back. I've realized that might not happen, so sam linebacker is really my favorite position. Safety would have been fun, too, but my teammates told me I couldn't backpedal very well.
You guys haven't won many games the past few years, and you're always dealing with distraction of your coach's job security. Yet you've played really hard the last few weeks. How have you been able to keep that intensity up?
DS: If everybody just does their minimal assignment, I believe we could win every single game that we play this year. Everybody was winning before they got to college, so they want to win in college, and therefore we're going to go out and play like winners every week. It's just a mindset that you never give up, even if your back's against the wall, because one day you're going to get off that wall. We're just fighting to get off that wall right now.