Mark Bradley coached Tennessee’s offensive line for five years. He worked with two tackles taken among the top 10 in the 1991 NFL draft.
The past decade, Bradley has served as a high school offensive line coach for his son, Rusty Bradley, who has been head coach at Christian Academy of Knoxville and University School of Jackson.
Mark Bradley knows the ins and outs of the position, and what it takes to play on the college level.
He also knows that Trey Smith is ready to play right away for the Vols – about that, Bradley has no doubts.
“I would bet the ranch that he will be able to contribute immediately,’’ Bradley said. “And not only contribute, but if he is not one of the five starters (opening day) then they have some really, really good players that he can’t beat out.
“If he stays healthy, I would love to be his agent.’’
Bradley believes Smith has the mental and physical makeup to play in the SEC right away.
“Trey is a very, very self-confident guy,’’ Bradley said. “The thing you like most is when there is a guy who is really, really good who knows he is really, really good, but he doesn’t act like it. That’s Trey.’’
Bradley should know. He coached or was on the UT staff when the Vols had such O-line stars as Antone Davis, Charles McRae and Kevin Mays. Bradley sees some of Smith in each of them.
Bradley said Smith has the “terrific balance’’ of Davis, the “incredible flexibility’’ of McRae and the “nastiness’’ of Mays.
“Trey has the combination of a lot of the things those guys had in one package,’’ Bradley said.
Bradley watched UT’s spring game and came away with the impression that Smith was UT’s best offensive lineman, although Brett Kendrick and Chance Hall did not play. Smith started at right guard after starting at right tackle much of the spring.
“I think eventually over his career he will be a left tackle’’ Bradley said. “But he could also be an elite level guard. He could play at least four positions, and if they wanted to work him at center, he could probably play all five positions.’’
Although Smith doesn’t turn 18 until June, Bradley said Smith has the strength to compete in the SEC as a true freshman.
“No question, absolutely,’’ Bradley said. “He was serious about the weight room.’’
Bradley said Smith took a weight lifting class at USJ, then lifted again in the afternoon.
“He is a strong guy,’’ Bradley said. “He has strong hands, which is important for an offensive lineman. At UT, he will maximize his strength.’’
Bradley told Smith he was doing a “smart thing’’ by enrolling at mid-term.
“You’ll get the period of adjusting out of the way,’’ Bradley said. “There is a learning curve that you are going to have to deal with. He was able to get that out of the way in the spring. He will be a veteran pretty quickly.’’
What about Smith’s foot work?
“Loved it,’’ Bradley said. “I thought he had everything you were looking for. He is obviously very gifted. He has some things that in the business, we call `crib’ things, things that he had when his mother picked him up out of the crib. If you don’t have them, you can’t get them, and he had them.’’
Like flexibility, balance, bend.
Bradley said he worked on some “little’’ technique improvements.
“Where to put your body in relation to the rusher, playing angles, playing percentages, what can you learn before the ball is snapped,’’ Bradley said. “I always teach guys to play the game first with your eyes and teach them how to see the correct things, and teach them how to anticipate what’s going to happen before it happens.’’
What about Smith’s tenacity?
“Loved it, absolutely loved it,’’ Bradley said. “And that’s the part that will surprise you about him. Off the field he is as nice a young man as you could ever want to be around.’’
At USJ, when Smith walked the halls, he was surrounded by 6th and 7th and 8th graders. Smith never snubbed them.
“He was so pleasant and so nice to those kids, and he didn’t have to be,’’ Bradley said. “There are a lot of kids that wouldn’t be.
“But then you watch him on the field and he is nasty, tough, a competitive guy. It’s just like he is two different people.’’
Bradley watched plenty of tape of Smith before they spent their one-and-only year together, in 2016. Bradley knew it would be difficult to create competitive reps in practice since Smith was so much better than his teammates.
So Bradley skipped the next level and went straight to the NFL to impress upon Smith.
“When I first go there,’’ Bradley said, “I said, `Trey, you can honestly dominate these 200-pound defensive ends you are going to go against and you’re not going to prove anything.
“Now this was right after the Super Bowl between the Broncos and the Panthers. I said, `If you want to get where you want to be, then you have to get where you can block (Denver pass rusher) Von Miller coming off the edge because Won Miller just dominated the Super Bowl.’’
“He took the challenge,’’ Bradley said. “As skilled and as talented as he was, he understood there were areas where he could improve. It’s a real testament to his character that he really wanted to be coached and he accepted coaching.
“He could not have been a more pleasant person to be around.’’
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