Minneapolis — Maurice Smith believes he’s going to make it.
When the Miami Dolphins finalize their initial 53-man roster on Saturday at 4 p.m., Smith, a defensive back from the University of Georgia, via Alabama, believes he’s going to be a part of an NFL roster.
And despite Smith’s undrafted status, there’s a very, very good chance he’s right.
“This game was basically about putting it on tape,” Smith said after significant reps in Thursday night’s preseason finale at the Vikings. “That was my whole thing going in. Now it’s just a matter of letting God work and putting it in his hands. And you know (executive vice president) Mike Tannenbaum and the rest of the staff, I’m just hoping I did enough. I feel like I did enough. So we’ve just got to see the results.”
Smith was the most impressive undrafted player the Dolphins signed this offseason.
There have been very good moments for defensive back Torry McTyer, punter Matt Haack (who made the team), offensive tackle Eric Smith, linebacker Chase Allen and wide receiver Drew Morgan.
But Smith, 6-feet, 195 pounds, has a very high ceiling on defense and special teams.
On Thursday, Smith made a memorable punt coverage tackle in which he showed off better-than-advertised speed and excellent hustle and effort.
“Left sideline,” recalled Smith, who most teammates and friends call, ‘Mo.’ “I had a double vice. Two guys in front of me. I had to work the sideline. I almost fell, because he had hit me while I was off-balance. I kind of used my speed and got around the blocks and made the tackle from behind. I was faced with adversity during the play. I tried to use my athletic ability to make a play.”
The Dolphins’ starting safeties are Reshad Jones and Nate Allen, with T.J. McDonald in line to compete to start after his return from an eight-game suspension.
Veteran Michael Thomas can play nickel corner or safety. Veteran Walt Aikens can play corner or safety.
There seems to be a place for Smith on the roster, however. Smith is strong enough to play safety but also has some of the coverage skills innate to a corner.
Frankly, it’s hard to understand how he went undrafted.
“That’s still a question I have, honestly,” Smith said. “I’m going to say that for whatever reason God didn’t have it for me to be drafted. I think it’s bigger than me. Obviously everyone wants to get drafted. But I think in the end it was more for whatever reason, maybe my story in the end, can be just like a lot of the greats, Cam Wake, the list goes on. It’s just guys that didn’t get the opportunity but then did maximize the opportunity they got in free agency. And you know you can still play 10 years in the league and be a great in the league, even if you didn’t get drafted.”
Smith transferred from Alabama to Georgia as a graduate student, and was a captain in his one season a Bulldog. Smith started 11 games with 50 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles.
Former Georgia and current Dolphins star Reshad Jones has taken him under his wing.
“Every practice Reshad grabs me for pointers,” Smith said. “And in the game he lets me know what I could have done better. He keeps a good eye on me. On the play. On the field. And even in the meeting room he’ll always let me know certain things he looks at. He’s a good role model for the most part.”
Smith knows the final five roster spots often come down to special teams performance.
“I’m glad I was able to learn that in college, through Bama and Georgia, playing those four years,” Smith said. “Special teams was key. And to be a good football player, you have to start with special teams. So I take pride in that. I try to maximize every rep.”
Last month, associate head coach and special teams coach Darren Rizzi complimented rookies Smith, McTyer and Cordrea Tankersley for their performance on special teams.
While many rookies on the fringe of the NFL roster cop to anxiety about Saturday’s cut down from 90 to 53 players, Smith doesn’t seem too stressed.
“I’m going to treat it like a regular day,” Smith said. “Get some treatment.”