Brad Smith has been in professional football for just six months, but the experience he has already accumulated is virtually incomparable.
The 22-year-old's resume contains such job descriptions as NFL wide receiver, quarterback, and even running back to go along with an astonishing 69 collegiate records. Smith can now add another decorative achievement to his portfolio as he was named Special Teams' Player of the Week by New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini for his three stops on punt coverage in Sunday's 20-17 win over division rival Miami.
"The guy breaks a ton of records in college football as a quarterback and comes down and makes three tackles on special teams," Mangini said of Smith on Monday. "That's exactly what I'm looking for: selfless, playing whatever role, figuring out how to get to the game, figuring out how to help the team win, and doing whatever you can possibly do to make that happen."
Along with Smith, the three other POTW honors went to tight end Chris Baker for offense, defensive end Bryan Thomas for defense and rookie wide receiver Wallace Wright for his diligent week of practice.
While each honor's importance is congruent across the board, Smith's recognition seems to stand out the most. However, due to his flat-out absurd athletic ability, the honor hardly comes as a surprise. Now just six games into his pro career, Smith has become a multi-dimensional weapon, and it all starts at practice and in the classroom.
"I just try to learn everything that goes in it from both perspectives, whether it's in the backfield or at receiver," said Smith. "I'm trying to get the whole perspective and that's helped me out a lot. I am not focusing on one thing but trying to get the big picture on where everybody fits, where a receiver needs to get before a block, what hole a running back needs to get to, things like that."
Smith's versatile arsenal of talents was highly anticipated after being selected in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. The former Mizzou quarterback was faced with making the transition to wide receiver upon arrival at Weeb Ewbank Hall. At first, it was unclear as to how exactly Mangini would fit the rookie – who had never played wide receiver - into the offensive attack. Now, after some key tackles in special teams' coverage, it's unclear as to where his potential stops – if at all.
"Well, he's definitely a special athlete. He is a guy that is very exciting with the ball in his hands," quarterback Chad Pennington said of Smith. "We're excited to have him here. And he does present different issues for the defense and he gives us different ways to be multiple and to exploit the defense and use him creatively. He's done a good job so far."
Perhaps Mangini was actually hinting at something last week when he playfully declared Smith a candidate for defense as well. On Thursday, Mangini displayed a mischievous grin when joking about his rookie's ability to personally fill-in almost any spot in the depth chart.
"I wouldn't be opposed at trying him at corner, safety, rush end, whatever we need," Mangini said of Smith.
What filled the press room with laughter may now fill it with follow-up questions and raised eyebrows in the video room. Smith proved his ability to not only adequately uphold coverage duties, but he exceeded most expectations with textbook open field tackles. One fourth quarter tackle on Miami's return man Wes Welker stuffed the veteran to just a one-yard gain. Welker has a career average of 22.8 yards per return, but he was limited to an average of just 13.8 yards on his five returns Sunday.
"Smith comes in and has a short yardage run on a short and one conversion. Then he goes down on kickoff and tackles the guy inside the 15. He goes out and runs a route; that's good. That's great, I love that," said Mangini.
Thomas has been a bit of a slash player himself as he has been spotted bouncing back from defensive end to linebacker on many different occasions this season. It's his type of versatility that is desired in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's plan to show multiple defensive fronts.
For the past two games now, Thomas has led the Jets in tackles with 11 total stops against the Fins and eight stops against Jacksonville a week earlier. Also, it was his substantial pressure from the left side that caused Joey Harrington to speed up his delivery and erroneously throw into the arms of Jets linebacker Victor Hobson for a first half interception. Now in his fifth season, the UAB alum has collected 37 tackles in just six games compared to 37 combined stops during the entire 2005 season.
"I really, really liked Bryan Thomas' game this week," said Mangini. "He was sound, he made really good plays in the running game, and he did a real nice job against the tight ends and the tackles. He played just good solid football playing within the scheme and was able to take advantage of his natural strength, his natural ability. He was a big part of a lot of very important plays in the game and I was pleased with that."
Tight end Chris Baker grabbed four catches for 39 yards, including a third down reception for 16 yards to the Dolphins' 30. That first quarter reception eventually led to Mike Nugent's opening field goal.
"He's a guy who continues to work and continues to get better, and it's not always going to be dramatic numbers but the overall contribution in the run game passing game in protection," Mangini said. "I was really happy with both those guys."
Not to be overlooked simply because he is on the practice squad is the rookie from the University of North Carolina, Wallace Wright. Wright's contributions during the week paved the way for a successful weekend.
"As a contributor at practice, he played receiver and played defensive back. He took every rep with show team on special teams and that's real value."