All eyes will be on the arms Sunday at Ford Field. And while last year's top-five picks Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez deserve attention, don't be surprised if legs take center stage.
New York and Detroit boast two of the top three kickoff returners in the league in Brad Smith and Stefan Logan, a battle that won’t grab headlines but could grab a lead in the game. Last Sunday in an embarrassing 9-0 loss to Green Bay, Smith did his share to jump start a Jets offense that only once made its way into the red zone. All told, Smith returned all four of Green Bay’s kickoffs for 121 yards, just slightly under his season average of 31.4 yards per kickoff return, a number which is tops in the AFC and second in the league.
But Smith doesn’t have any extra impetus to put forth a good effort to make a statement against another top returner.
“This is a game and it’s on Sunday and that’s all I need to get ready. This is the NFL, you shouldn’t need any reason to play,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter to me who else is on the other team or any type of stuff like that. I don’t need that.”
Smith is averaging “just” a little more than five touches on the ball each game for the Jets, but they’re coming in a variety of different ways. Besides being the team’s kick returner, Smith plays some wide receiver in a pinch and is under center for their version of the Wildcat offense as the fifth year player has earned the role of “Mr. Versatility” with the team. And although Sunday is the chance to showcase his skills in front of Logan in a battle for field position, Smith refuses to spin it that way.
“I don’t look at it that way, like a statement game or something like that. To me, it’s not” Smith said. Smith was taken as an athlete and a project player in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft after having played quarterback in college at Missouri. “To me, it’s a game we need to win and it doesn’t matter who is on the other team returning kicks or if others are comparing me to someone else. I want to go out there and play the same, regardless of all that.”
Smith’s kickoff return average is up slightly over last year’s season average, but he feels that the overall play of the unit has improved from the 2009 season. Consistency, he says, has been a key for the Jets special teams unit this year under coordinator Mike Westhoff. On Sunday, Smith’s kickoff return immediately after halftime went for 47 yards, the longest play on the day for the Jets and one that also set them up with thire best field position of the game.
“I think a big part of it is the consistency of it all. We have a lot of the same guys from last year who are back with the unit this year, and the new guys are stepping right in too,” Smith said. “The reason why I’m doing so well this year is because those guys in front of me are helping me by opening the holes and doing all that work that makes me look good.”