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Husky Hard Knocks: Michael Smith

As NFL teams begin to break training camp all over the country this weekend, we begin here at The UConn Blog with a new series: Husky Hard Knocks. Today, we preview the pre-season chances former UConn wide receiver Michael Smith has of making the Houston Texans roster.

Rich Schultz

Here is part one of our new series that will highlight the seven former Huskies about to enter their first NFL training camps this summer. Each day we’ll evaluate a single player’s individual prospects, likely fit with their new team and position competition. Today, we begin with wide receiver Michael Smith, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans.

When the NFL Draft came to a close, Michael Smith faced perhaps the easiest decision any new rookie free agent did upon being approached by multiple teams. Given that his home resides 30 minutes from Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, Smith sprinted to sign his offer from last year’s AFC South champions. The eagerness to strike a deal was mutual as, according to Desmond Conner of The Hartford Courant, the Texans called Smith about their interest before the draft even ended.

Now, a few weeks prior that call, Smith worked out for the Texans during the time that every NFL team finalizes their draft plans. While general manager Rick Smith owned one of the league’s most complete rosters, he still realized that Houston had a problem. Behind all-pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, the team had less depth outside the numbers than you’ll find inside a kiddie pool.

So, he responded by drafting dynamic Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round, and later picking up Jacksonville State wideout Alan Bonner in the sixth. Then, the Texans added Smith as a part of arguably the most impressive group of undrafted free agents (UDFA) in the NFL.

Simply due to his UDFA status, Smith is unlikely to make Houston’s roster by the end of camp. His best assets are his physical run blocking and toughness, each of which was well showcased during his time at UConn playing in run-first offenses. These attributes are very likely what drew the Texans, another team dedicated to pounding the rock, to Smith.

The soon-to-be 23-year old suffered from occasional drops last season en route to a pedestrian 31-catch campaign. While playing within a woeful passing offense did hamper his individual numbers, Smith does not currently possess many physical qualities that will separate him from the pack at the pro level.

Standing at a solid 6’ 0" 204 lbs, the new Texan boasts below-average speed, as told by his 4.59 second 40-yard dash time. His routes are fairly smooth, which is how he gained most of his separation from opposing defenders at UConn. Developing more consistent hands and perfecting these separation techniques are the two musts for Smith at the next level.

However, he must make improvements to all portions of his game to have a shot at even making Houston’s practice squad. Whether on the practice squad or 53-man roster, Smith will be aligned strictly as an outside receiver where his skills fit best. He does not own the necessary quickness to operate in the slot, and his blocking ability is best utilized at the Z receiver position, or outside receiver typically on the strong side of the formation.

Smith’s most immediate competition will be the two other wideouts Houston signed after the draft, Texas A&M’s Uzoma Nwachukwu and Georgia’s Marlon Brown. According to their scouting profiles, Nwachukwu boasts exceptional ability when running in the open field and not only can play inside and out, but he also can return kicks. Brown stands at a strong 6’ 4" and is returning from an ACL tear, one of many injuries he suffered at Georgia. When healthy, he is a talented and physically imposing pass-catcher with potential.

Should Smith somehow beat out both of those rookie teammates and Bonner, he’ll then have to take the job of either Lestar Jean or Devier Posey. The pair combined for just 12 catches and 238 yards last season, but have a leg up on Smith with their years of NFL experience. Meanwhile, Johnson and Hopkins are assured of roster spots and second-year receiver Keshawn Martin seems close. The Michigan State product is currently listed as the second wideout on the team’s depth chart.

So, while the opportunity of a happy homecoming for Smith does exist, it appears highly unlikely he’ll make the team come September. The Texans open their training camp on Friday, July 26th at their team facility in Houston.