ATLANTA -- The train wreck that was supposed to be Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith walked down the 20-or-so steps into the old-school, basement gym that isn't for the feint of heart or the uncommitted. Smith, who had acquired the train-wreck tag after showing up to the combine nearly two weeks ago out of shape, had been a top prospect.
His unexpected exit on the day he was scheduled to go through drills in front of coaches, scouts and general managers at the Indianapolis showcase event only enhanced perceptions that Smith might not be worth the investment of millions of dollars, even though he had been the most dominant offensive lineman in college football.
Shortly before 7 a.m., the train wreck finally made it to the gym floor and it was clear that something was wrong. This was the guy who was supposed to make Santa Claus look like he was on Jenny Craig? Smith was tall, hardly fat and sloppy, and by all accounts, the prototypical body type of an Outland Trophy winner and a starting NFL left tackle.
"You can look at him now and see that he's been working extremely hard and he's focused," Smith said, as if playing the role of an NFL general manager evaluating him. "He's not just sitting around not working out; he's grabbed life by the horns and going all out."
Smith was put through a grueling, unorthodox, one-hour workout by gym owner Ty "Ropeman" Felder, the NFL's trainer to the stars. Ray Lewis, John Abraham, Laveranues Coles, Shannon Sharpe and at least a dozen other current and former pro players are among his clientele. This day, it was biceps, triceps, and cardio. Smith and four others did multiple sets of 100 repetitions, alternating high steps on a 2½-foot support bar on a machine designed for a chest lift. Brutal.
"What are you waiting for? The second round?" Felder screamed at Smith, who looked back at hisd trainer as if he'd rather chew glass than do the final 200-repetition set of a grueling drill.
Smith popped off the required amount like he was a drum major on Red Bull. Nothing to it. This supposed slouch was fluid and motivated. The session ended with 10 sets of 50 sit-ups. Ropeman pointed to the door at the back of the gym in case Smith needed to puke. All he got was a belch, a smile and a "see you tomorrow."
In between those workouts, Smith has an evening track and agility session with two coaches who work with pro athletes in the Atlanta area. Six times a week in this old-school sweatbox of a gym in the morning. At least three times a week on the track. Smith is serious.
Prior to the combine, the Alabama tackle was with other prospects in Pensacola, Fla., supposedly training. He admittedly wasn't working hard enough or staying disciplined with his eating habits. He switched to Felder and moved to Atlanta the week before the combine but said he wasn't in good enough shape to perform at the NFL's crucial job audition.
During interviews at the combine, Smith told teams he wouldn't work out in Indianapolis. But he failed to inform combine officials that he was leaving town to continue training with Felder on the day offensive linemen were set to go through drills. He was announced as AWOL, a frenzy to find him ensued, and he was quickly dubbed this year's combine knucklehead.
His decision to bolt the combine followed his suspension from the Sugar Bowl, which stemmed from him having illegal contact with an agent. Smith's decision-making was, and is, being rightfully questioned. Publicly, he hasn't been given a pass because he's the only major prospect whose judgment went so awry, a pattern of behavior NFL teams find difficult to ignore.
"Prior to those things at Alabama, I never had issues as far me missing anything, never had a character issue," Smith said. "I just felt like I made a bad business decision as far as leaving the combine and not telling anyone. As far as a football decision, I think I made the best decision I could possibly make. I was so excited to come back and start a workout and get ready for my pro day (on) March 11. I would never want to insult anybody by just getting up and leaving like that. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't have handled it like that."
As much heat as Smith has taken publicly, teams haven't bailed on him. After all, he was considered the best offensive lineman just a few weeks ago and there is a premium on left tackles in the NFL.
"I talked to several teams, actually," Smith said. "A couple teams called me the day after to make sure everything was alright. It was good to hear from those guys."
Several interviews and private workouts have been arranged already, including one with the Cincinnati Bengals, who hold the sixth overall pick. At least one St. Louis assistant coach –- the Rams have the second overall pick and want to beef up their line -– has scheduled a private meeting with Smith at his pro day next week at the University of Alabama.
Most prospects valued as highly as Smith tend not to schedule interviews or private workouts with teams outside of the top 10, but because of the potential damage Smith might have caused himself at the combine, his list has been expanded. Philadelphia, which has the 20th and 28th picks in the first round, could be in that group. There are some who believe the Eagles, in need of a left tackle, could attempt to trade up to get Smith.
Among the tackles with top-10 potential in next month's draft are Andre Smith, Baylor's Jason Smith, Michael Oher of Ole Miss and Virginia's Eugene Monroe. Though teams are showing faith that one bad weekend didn't ruin a dominant three-year body of work, Smith knows that his pro-day performance is of the utmost importance, as are his follow-up interviews.
"That's No. 1 on my priority list," Smith said. "There's so much I'm putting into March 11. They say don't put all your eggs in one basket but I'm doing that on this occasion because I feel like I need to give the best showing I can."
Still, why should an NFL team guarantee him $20 million to $30 million with everything that's gone on the past few months?
"I'm going to do whatever it takes to protect my quarterback," Smith said. "I consider the quarterback like my mother. As a person in life, you don't want anybody to hit your mother so you'll go through any means necessary to protect your mom. I'm a hard worker -- on and off the field."
Smith said his weight is in the "320s" (he weighed 332 at the combine) and that his stamina is where it needs to be. Felder said Smith's weight is closer to 330 pounds but it is being worn on a leaner and stronger frame than just a few weeks ago. Losing too much weight to impress scouts isn't healthy. Any weight loss can be made over time, but that might not be necessary, Felder said.
"When I first got him three weeks ago, his conditioning wasn't good, you could tell he hadn't been training hard," Felder said. "He's about 95 percent of where he needs to be. I'd put him against anyone his size right now, and keep in mind the type of guys I work with. I wish I would have had him for the past two months."