He was Mr. Versatility last year for the Jets and though he now plays for the Bills, Brad Smith is making just as big of an impact for his new team. New meets old on Sunday when the Jets travel to Buffalo to face Smith and his 5-2 Bills.
Smith is returning kickoffs, catching balls and playing in the Bills’ version of the Wildcat, bringing his unique athleticism to upstate New York. It was his combination of size and speed that led the Jets to gamble with a fourth-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and take a quarterback from Missouri, turning him into a wide receiver and kickoff returner who would dabble under center from time to time.
And it’s that role in the Wildcat where the Jets miss him the most.
“Brad is the best Wildcat quarterback in the league, or Wildcat running back. With Brad, it’s quarterback, because you have to defend the pass, as well,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. “We hated to see him leave, but sometimes that happens. You have 19 unsigned free agents. We knew it was going to be a challenge, but we definitely wanted Brad back. Unfortunately, we were unable to sign him.”
Smith, however, is slowly getting acclimated to his new team and while he is making an impact in several different facets of the game, his role is still growing. Due to the lockout that nearly threatened the season, Smith wasn’t able to get an extended offseason with his new team to learn the wrinkles of how they will use him.
“We didn’t get an offseason to implement him and to implement the things that I think he’ll be able to do long-term for us,” Bills head coach Chan Gailey said.
There has been some frustration in getting Smith fully integrated to the Bills offense.
“I think it’s just coming from nowhere. No background with each other; learning the entire offense at quarterback and at receiver. Just trying to get the plays down for the future,” Smith said. “They were able to work me in a few times to get the Wildcat stuff in. It was never a big deal to me. It’s more about winning and both things don’t always show up.”
With the Jets’ offseason moves, including re-signing Santonio Holmes and bringing in wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, Smith never seemed likely to return to the team that drafted him. Though he was a fan favorite and valuable to both the offense and the special teams, the Jets made a choice to let Smith go. He admits that there will be a lot of emotions on Sunday as he faces the team that took a chance on him when he was a bit of an unknown coming out of college.
He called his experience with the Jets “very comfortable.”
“It was a place that I liked playing — the organization, the people. I was very comfortable there and I liked it. Being here in Buffalo is definitely a growing experience just personally as a football player, just learning and have a chance to be around these guys who have an unbelievable drive to win,” Smith said. “It’s helping me grow and hopefully I’ll contribute something to help them.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.