Rookie wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith was one of the standout performers during the first two weeks of the New Orleans Saints training camp.
The third-round draft choice from UCF supplied a highlight most days, catching passes deep down the field, at the sideline, across the middle and even airborne on occasion.
But many observers wondered if that level of play would transfer to the preseason opener at Jacksonville on Thursday night. In fact, Smith himself was curious to see how he would perform against NFL players in a game situation.
“I’m here because I did great things in college,” Smith said after practice Friday. “Now everybody wants to see if I can match up with the guys in the NFL and I want to see that too. In the preseason it gives me great experience to see if I can match up with guys in the NFL and play and compete with these guys.”
So far so good.
Smith caught a team-high four passes for 48 yards against the Jaguars. His longest catch was a 25-yarder from Taysom Hill that came one play before Hill ran 3 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown. That score pulled New Orleans within 20-17 as it rallied for a 24-20 victory.
“It makes it a much greater experience than just being out there and you’re doing your job, but you don’t make a play,” Smith said. “At the end of the day when you make a play you feel that you personally helped the team to win.”
The morning after his successful NFL debut, Smith experienced another aspect of being a professional when the Saints coaches reviewed the game film with the players.
“I thought it was going to be good, but if it’s good the coaches aren’t doing their job,” Smith said. “(Wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson) was harder on me more than I expected him to be. But looking into more detail in the film I really see, “oh I really could have done this better. I really could have blocked him much longer.” It’s just a matter of looking at the film, seeing what you did wrong and coming out to this practice today and making your corrections.”
New Orleans made its corrections Friday in hopes of playing better in its next preseason game a week later against Arizona in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I had a couple of missed alignments and a couple of mental errors so my biggest thing (this week) will be cleaning that up,” Smith said. “Another thing for me is coming off the ball every play.
“Thus far I think this camp has been really great for me. Overall I give myself a B grade because I know there are more things I can get better at. There are more things to learn. Instead of learning one position, I can learn another spot in the formation. When the quarterback calls something, not thinking about it too much, already having my mind set up about what I’m going to do and how I’m going to work the guy in front of me. Overall I feel very comfortable about everything I’m doing this camp.”
Even though Thursday’s game doesn’t count in the standings it was still a win, something Smith has gotten accustomed to after helping the Golden Knights go 13-0 last season.
He said that after the game he got a text from one of UCF’s assistant coaches. The test said, simply, “14-0.”
“I laughed about it,” Smith said.
Then he was asked if he could remember that last time he lost a football game.
“It’s kind of hard for me to remember the last time I lost a game,” Smith said.
It was Dec. 17, 2016 when Arkansas State defeated UCF, 31-13, in the AutoNation Cure Bowl.