Learning more about ... Lee Smith

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
10:44
PM ET
In the fourth of a series on Patriots 2011 draft choices, ESPNBoston.com speaks with Marshall tight ends coach Phil Ratliff about New England fifth-round pick Lee Smith:

• How would you characterize Lee as a tight end in terms of style of play?: "He's a throwback, someone who is going to come off the football and block you. He's very physical and plays extremely hard. We've always had this thing in our [meeting] room to be the last one blocking, and he truly epitomizes that. You don't want to be standing around when the play is still going on. He blocks well beyond the play being over. How hard he plays, and his mentality, he's the nicest guy you'd ever meet off the field. He steps on the field and he totally changes. His intensity, his work ethic, he was far and away the most respected player on our football team the last three years. He is truly a natural leader."

[+] EnlargeLee Smith
AP Photo/Michael ConroyPatriots draft pick Lee Smith is known primarily as a blocking tight end, but his former coach says he's got great hands, too.
• How might you envision him making his mark in the NFL?: "I don't know if I've seen another player as physical as him at the tight end position. From what I understand, it's hard to find guys like Lee that enjoy blocking. His mentality is that he's going to do whatever is best for the team. He will not complain. I know in college, a lot of tight ends just want to catch the ball. He's not like that. He'll do whatever. If they want to line him up and have him block every play, that's what he'll do."

• Lee's strength seems to be his blocking, but he does have 75 career catches. How would you assess his ability to get open and catch the football?: "People might not realize the hands that he has, and the ability to get open on those short and intermediate routes, because he uses his strength and his size. He's a very big man. He's going to improve every day. His first three years, Cody Slate was the hybrid-type tight end, and we'd go two-tight end set, and Lee would be the on-the-ball tight end. We'd move Cody around and Cody would catch most of the balls. Lee never complained one bit. This year, probably the last six games, I'll bet he caught 30 passes. People might think he's just a big old blocking tight end, but God has blessed him with some very solid hands. He's a very, very smart football player who reads coverages, understands leverage, and he's physical when matched up against linebackers. He is what he is, but don't underestimate his ability to catch the football."

• Was there a performance, or a moment that stood out to you from Lee's time at Marshall?: "This kind of epitomizes Lee Smith. We're going to open up with Ohio State this year, so for six months he talks about the opportunity to block [defensive lineman Cam] Heyward. He thinks about it every day, and he talks to me about it every single day. That, in itself, let's you know how he is. He's such a self-motivator. He is such a tough, physical player, a hard-nosed guy who understands what a team is. He's hard on himself and he rises to the challenge. ... Heyward had one tackle that day."

• What were some of the questions you got from NFL coaches and scouts?: "Right after Lee got drafted, I told him that I wasn't surprised the Patriots drafted him, even though they have the good tight ends they have on the roster, because they spent more time with him and was more in-depth about the total Lee Smith. I could tell they liked what he was made up of. [Teams] brought up the past; he had a little rocky past early. But it's so irrelevant now. He's a totally different guy from that. All it took was for him to get out of Knoxsville and get to Huntington and into a structured [program], and he just took off. For the last five years, he's been anything you'd ever want in a player. He's my favorite player of all-time."

• What makes Lee your all-time favorite?: “Just his work ethic, his true leadership, his mentality, his personality. In my opinion, that's why the Patriots have been so successful. They saw that. He may not run the best 40 time, he may not lift the most weights, but I'll tell you what, as a person and football player, his mentality, how he self-motivates, a leader. There is no question in my mind, he'll have a very good career in the NFL."

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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