Smith fires downfield
In the two games between the Jets and Bills last season combined, Brad Smith accounted for one rush, one reception and one kickoff return. Looking ahead to Sunday's game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Smith hopes to be more active in the Jets game plan this time around, regardless of where and when he's needed.
The same can be said every week for the second-year "Slash" player out of Missouri. Smith has an arsenal of offensive talent and craves to get his hands on the ball, no matter the situation. And those hands may be in luck this week, as Buffalo is off to an 0-3 start and the Bills' 458.3 yards given up per game on defense is ranked last in the NFL.
"I always enjoy being out there, having the opportunity to get the ball. It's what I love most about this game," Smith said today. "Having opportunities to make plays is great for me and I look forward to making them every time I get on that field."
Even if his production isn't in the offense game plan — where Smith can be found lined up at quarterback, wide receiver and running back — his talents are spread throughout Mike Westhoff's special teams units. While he has developed into a reliable target for Jets QBs, Smith has been used in both the return and coverage units, making it hard for the Jets coaching staff to see No. 16 on the sidelines at any time.
"He's an integral part of just about everything that I do," Westhoff said this preseason. "Brad's such a multitalented guy. We just want to put him in a number of different positions to take advantage of his athleticism."
"His production last week overall was exactly what we are looking for: A tackle on special teams, two kickoff returns, he carried the ball and caught passes," head coach Eric Mangini said of Smith's role in the Jets' 31-28 victory over the Dolphins in Week 3.
"Brad's a dynamic player and I think he can do a lot of good things with the ball in his hands. We have a lot of players like that."
Sure, Mangini has a roster well-stocked with versatile players, but there aren't any other players on the Jets — nor in the entire league, for that matter — who can boast a résumé like his. In his senior season at Mizzou, Smith became the first player in NCAA history to throw for 8,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards in a collegiate career.
Although he has yet to throw the ball in the regular season for Brian Schottenheimer's offense, Smith's presence alone will makes defensive coordinators wary of his big-play ability, which creates more options for the Jets offense.
"It's exciting that there are different opportunities where the ball might end up to me," said Smith. "But I still maintain the same approach and consistency no matter what the play is. I always give the same amount of effort and focus regardless of where and to who the play is called for."
Because of the season-ending injury to Justin Miller, the Jets' Pro Bowl kickoff returner, Smith has been seen more often with his heels dug into the goal line on kickoffs. While he has had his fair share of returning experience at practice and in training camps, last week was the first game in which Smith was used on every kickoff return unit. He returned two kickoffs for 27 yards each.
"It's a little different," Smith said of returning kicks. "Having carried the ball so much in college makes me a little bit more comfortable doing it, but it's definitely a skill that you can learn and can become better at."
Smith has done all a player could do to hone that skill. As nearly every rookie does, Smith found himself spending extra time on the field after practice and in the meeting rooms last season. This year that approach hasn't changed.
"I like to stick around and soak in as much as I can," he said. "Regardless of the amount of plays or anything I need to learn, I just want to know as much as I can about the offense and special teams. It's something that has to be done if you want to improve and I have seen the benefits of just putting in the extra work."