2006-09-08 / Sports

Athleticism Key For Jets' Smith To Gain Playing Time

By Brian Bohl

Brad Smith throws a pass in the fourth quarter of the New York Jets 20-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, August 31 at Giants Stadium. Photo by Pete Borriello.
Brad Smith throws a pass in the fourth quarter of the New York Jets 20-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, August 31 at Giants Stadium. Photo by Pete Borriello. If Brad Smith played baseball, he would be considered a utility player.

Having the ability to play multiple positions is valued more highly in baseball than football, but while specialization is much more common on the gridiron, Smith has shown the Jets he has the athletic ability to play quarterback, receiver or even be a rusher in certain situations.

Taken in the fourth-round of this year's draft, the rookie is officially listed as a wide out, but has been used by head coach Eric Mangini as a passer and a running back in trick play situations.

In a microcosm of the type of athleticism the rookie can potentially bring to the team, Smith did it all to lead the Jets past the Eagles 20-17 in the pre-season finale. The former Missouri star quarterback went 2-4 for 13 yards passing, caught a 36-yard pass from Kellen Clemens and had four carries for 31 yards, including a touchdown.

Taking snaps under center was not a novelty act for Smith. Chad Pennington has recovered from off-season surgery on his throwing arm, but has missed 16 of the last 32 regular season games, meaning depth at the position is a necessity. It was noteworthy that Mangini gave his first-year player two more pass attempts than Patrick Ramsey, a former first-round pick acquired in a trade with the Redskins to fill that void.

Ramsey did have a touchdown completion to Dante Ridgeway, which did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.

"He did a nice job managing the drive and then hitting the TD pass to Dante," Mangini said. "I was pleased with that drive."

Still, the rainy night at Giants Stadium belonged to Smith. The 22-year-old did not practice at quarterback at any point during the week, but took over for Ramsey with 14:29 left in the fourth. Despite coming in cold, he led a drive that set up Mike Nugent's 30-yard field goal that cut the Eagles lead to 17-13 and eventually set up the winning touchdown.

"I was shocked and happy at the same time," Smith said. "We changed it up a little bit. Coach put me out there at quarterback to try and get things done."

Though Jets fans might wish Smith could be a player like Michael Vick-a lethal threat with his arm and his legs, the better comparison might be someone like Antwaan Randle El, who was a stand-out QB at Indiana but became a versatile threat for the Steelers playing primarily as a receiver.

With Brooks Bollinger traded earlier in the week, the battle to back up Pennington is now down to Ramsey against Clemens, the rookie second-round pick who went 7-10 for 75 yards after getting the start against Philadelphia.

Mangini was typically evasive when asked if Smith could be used as a change-of-pace option at quarterback. If he is utilized like Randle El, the 6-2, 212 pound Smith might get one pass attempt a game or run pre-arraigned draw players from behind center.

"We thought we would give him a shot and see what he could do; give us some position flexibility there," Mangini said about the exhibition experiment. "That is something that we talked about and worked on, and I think he did a nice job."

Since Curtis Martin is out until Week 7 and no back has shown to be the clear-cut favorite to replace him, that type of strategy could be used to jump start the running game and make the playbook slightly less predictable. He showed what he can do with his legs by scoring the go-ahead TD on a nine-yard scramble with 3:19 left that was capped when he lowered his shoulder and blasted through a crowd to get past the goal line.

"I don't know, you'd have to ask coach," Smith said about an expanded role in the offense. "Everything is for a purpose and I could definitely be used. I'm just going to go out, like any QB or receiver, coming out and playing. We'll just have to wait and see, whatever is going to put the team in the best position to win, and that's what coach is going to do."

In his senior season for the Tigers, Smith was 191-369. That 51.9 completion percentage was not that high, especially for a Jets offense that values low risk passes for moderate gains and more consistency. He did amass 2,185 yards and 17 touchdowns in the air, and completed that with an additional 553 yards and four scores on the ground.

It was that type of overall performance that has his former coaches excited about what the Youngstown, Ohio native can do in the NFL.

"He's a phenomenal athlete with the ball in his hands," said Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel. "He's the only QB in the history of college football who has thrown for 8,000 yards and ran for 4,000 yards. There is no one in college football that has ever done that. I think that says a lot. A lot of people looked at him for quarterback, but others think 'here's a great athlete and we should get him in our system and see if he can play somewhere else too.'"

Smith completed his college career with 13,088 yards of total offense. In the process, he also finished with school records for rushing touchdowns (42) and passing touchdowns (56).

Though adjusting to a new league and a new role can be a difficult process, Pinkel thinks his former pupil has the ability to change.

"His work ethic is second-to-none," he added. "As a quarterback, you have to be such a student of the game and put in all that extra time at that spot- that's Brad. He'll get in and work hard and the rest will take care of itself."

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