"It was a little bit discouraging," Smith said. "But you have to keep working and working. Coaches see your work, and your opportunity comes around."
Smith will get his next opportunity to contribute for the struggling Owls on Saturday when they play at winless Idaho (0-4). He will line up at defensive end in place of Sean Daniels, the senior who leads the team in sacks but was lost due to a season-ending surgery for a sports hernia.
Smith said he played some defensive end in high school. However, he says he is ready to make the transition from standing up to lining up with his hand in the dirt.
"It's kind of a big change because I'm in the trenches, and everything is coming at me so fast," Smith said Wednesday. "As a linebacker, I have a couple of seconds before a lineman comes up to me. At this position I get to work off the tackle and just make a play."
And this is exactly what Rhule, who said the shift is permanent, at least for this season, wants from Smith.
"We wanted to put him in a position like Adrian Robinson, where he can just go get the quarterback," Rhule said, referring to the former Owl now playing linebacker for the NFL's Denver Broncos. "We want him to make plays and turn him lose."
Rhule has been emphasizing increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks since the beginning of training camp last month. However, the Owls have recorded just five sacks through three games.
The defense has struggled in multiple areas. They are allowing 529 yards per game, which ranks them 119th out of 125 teams. However, they are looking to change things this weekend against an Idaho team that is averaging just 12.8 points while allowing an average of 42.3 points per game.
Losing eight of their last nine games going back to last season, the Owls know they need a win. And Smith is looking to make a contribution.
"It's an opportunity for me," he said of the position change. "It's an opportunity for the team because we need to win now."