Smith fires downfield
When Brad Smith was drafted in April 2006, he knew the New York Jets coaching staff didn't intend to use him at his natural position, quarterback. Regardless, Smith insisted he would always be "a quarterback at heart" after dominating opposing defenses for four seasons at the University of Missouri.
Fast-forward 18 months, 24 games and 22 receptions. The second-year NFL pro is torn between two loves — and it's not going to get much easier. Smith has blossomed as the Jets third wide receiver; so much so that it's become difficult for teammates to even picture the 23-year-old as a QB.
"He catches the ball like he's been a receiver all his life," Jerricho Cotchery said.
"To go from being a quarterback to where I am now, I feel a lot more comfortable. I've built chemistry with Chad and want to continue doing so," Smith said.
Smith still continues to see time in punt and kick coverage and on kickoff returns, but he has been accumulating more and more snaps behind Laveranues Coles and Cotchery.
"Overall, the adjustment has gone well because it's still football," Smith said of being a professional receiver. "There's a lot more running and blocking, obviously, but I've learned to adjust my approach to compete as a receiver at this level. Basically, I did it all in college except for tackling, but I was even doing that my whole life until then."
Even though he has just 11 receptions for 126 yards this season, consider this: last season he only had nine catches for 61 yards in 16 regular-season game (before adding two more in the playoffs). And this year the two Jets receivers in front of him are on pace to combine for 187 receptions —Coles and Cotchery have 41 catches each after seven games).
"Honestly, no, it never really crossed my mind that it would turn out like this — at least not this successful this fast," Smith said Friday. "It's a good spot to be in with LC, J-Co and Justin [McCareins], so I'm happy in that sense. I'm mixed in with great players and teammates and I'm glad I can be relied upon to contribute.
"But at this point, it's not a big deal being strictly a wide receiver. Being a football player, you're always finding out ways to make plays on the field, regardless. I've just been lucky enough to have found them and made the most of them."
Smith made his first ultimate contribution when he snagged a 16-yard pass from Pennington in the right corner of the end zone against the New York Giants earlier this month. Those six points were the first of his promising pro career.
"I was never a fan of watching football growing up — I was too busy playing it," he said. "So I never really envisioned how I was going to get a touchdown in this league. I just always knew how bad I wanted one. Now that I did, I'm hungry for another one. No matter how it comes or how I get it, I want another one. And after that, I'm going to want more."
It's easy to believe that Smith's adjustment from behind center to split wide would have taken much longer than just one season. Coincidentally, it's easier for him to thrive at wide receiver particularly because he was a quarterback.
"I wouldn't say it's easier for me, or anyone, for that matter, because there's a lot of stuff going on in Chad's head. He's got a lot of stuff to know," Smith said of starter Chad Pennington. "But I think it helps having played the spot before — I know what he's generally thinking and looking for. I think it's a pretty valuable asset to have, because he knows that I understand what he is going through and what his thinking is."
"The one thing about former quarterbacks," said coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a former college quarterback as well, "is that they understand what the quarterback is thinking. They understand what it's like standing back there with people flying all around trying to knock your head off, and why you've got to get open and be in the right spot."
While playing quarterback has helped his receiving mentality, Smith has received additional help from some old friends. Some of his former teammates who were on the end of his passes in college have been known to call him up with a suggestion or two.
"It's pretty interesting," Smith said with a chuckle. "They kind of get on me because I used to make them run a lot like routes and stuff. So they're like 'How does it feel being on the other end of it?' Other than that, they're pretty helpful."
No matter the amount of help he receives, his athleticism and intelligence have paved a smooth path for the Ohio native.
"It's all the same rush no matter where I am or what I'm doing. A hit, a catch, a run, a block — it all falls under the same category," he said. "The feeling of production and execution is the same no matter where it comes from."