Behind scenes, Rusty Smith progressing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every Monday, Tuesday and Friday, Rusty Smith heads out to the Titans' practice field with quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains and a young receiver or two.

They try to improve the footwork of the rookie quarterback, a sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic.

Then, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday he gets to employ some of the technique he’s trying to polish with a share of the work as the scout-team quarterback.

“He’s doing pretty good and he’s come out on his own and worked extra,” offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. “His feet are improved … I still like the way he throws, he still has the arm strength and he’s still doing the things we want him to do.”

No, this isn’t a push for the third-stringer to move ahead of Kerry Collins or Vince Young.

But after this year the Titans will be making big decisions at the position. Young will be heading into the final year of his deal and Collins’ contract will expire. The big, strong-armed Smith could be a big factor in the future. And a lot of people have asked me for a progress report, so here it is.

Heimerdinger says Smith gets a couple of good things out of scout-team work: A better sense of how fast the clock works and the ball needs to come out and how to slide in the pocket.

Smith said Collins takes the first set of scout team work and he generally gets the rest. Inside, the young signal-caller has also been learning how to properly watch and break down film, he said.

“I’m still learning the offense, you can always know the offense better,” Smith said.

As for his work with Loggains…

“In high school and college I relied a lot on my arm strength,” he said. “Now I am trying to use my legs more, which will take more pressure off my arm and gain more velocity.

“At the top of my drop I’m trying to keep a bigger base, not keep my feet closer together. And then when throwing the ball, using the bottom half of my body to produce velocity on the ball, that way my arm can work on making accurate throws. I think I am making progress every time I go out there.”

I’ve spent some time with Smith’s dad in Jacksonville, where the family owns a little restaurant right near EverBank Field. The Patriots showed a big interest in Smith before the draft, so the Titans had good company in courting him.

He’s the sort of guy I believe Heimerdinger would craft if he could draw up a guy to run the offense he’d most like to call.

Now the question is how well and how soon he can develop behind the scenes.

A lot of young quarterbacks are timid when given their first NFL chances. While the since-departed Chris Simms looked timid in preseason games, Smith was far bolder.

“Mentally I think he’s ready,” Heimerdinger said. “He comes in on Tuesdays and studies the game plan, he stands back there with Dowell as Dowell makes the calls, tells him where he would go. Mentally I could give him the game plan. Now whether he could see all that and do all that, that’s a different thing. But he’s really working at it hard.”

Damian Williams is the receiver most often working with Smith, with Marc Mariani joining in at times. Mariani tread lightly for fear of saying anything that could be read as a slight of Young or Collins, but he said Smith “can really zip it in there” and leaves him with sore hands.

Maybe somewhere in the Titans’ future, Smith-to-Williams and Smith-to-Mariani will be key connections.

“That wouldn’t be a bad story,” Mariani said. “We’ll see how it goes.”