Jets'New Riddle:Who's Red,White and Green and Can Play QB?
Brad Smith ambled in front of the goal line, waiting his turn on an impending kickoff drill.
His white-and-green Jets' practice jersey was drenched in sweat, a departure from the four quarterbacks in red shirts who were throwing on the opposite field.
Smith would soon join that group in a moment, but not before taking kicks and racing up the field, while swarms of would-be tacklers ran into position during the return exercise.
Not many listed quarterbacks on an NFLroster take repetitions as a return specialist. Peyton Manning would be asked to kick a football before being told to receive a punt.
Chad Pennington's closest interaction with the special teams unit might be a congratulatory backslap after a favorable return.
Smith, though, said he relishes the ability to alternate white and red shirts, though he said his role as a versatile weapon can hurt his fashion statements. "It's pretty cool, although I feel like a Christmas tree sometimes because we wear green shorts," he said with a laugh. "They say to keep the red one on during one-on-ones so they can't jam you as much." That red jersey means other players are prohibited from making contact, though Smith took the hits last season when he started a game as a wide receiver and two others at running back. He also made 10 special teams tackles, taking the unit's Player of the Week honors for his three tackles in a Week 6 victory over Miami.
The 23-year-old's official position in the 2007 media guide is quarterback, where he starred for Missouri during his college career. There, he became the Tigers' catalyst, becoming the first player in NCAA history to record at least 8,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards.
Smith's speed and athleticism prompted the Jets to take him in the fourth round of last year's draft. At 6'2, 210 pounds, he presented coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with a unique weapon. Some of those looks included Smith lining up under center for a designed run or play-fake. It even included an end-around from the receiver spot, a play that resulted in a season-high 32-yard run that was the Jets' longest running play of the season.
During his inaugural training camp, coach Eric Mangini insisted Smith was not part of the four-way competition that culminated with Pennington reclaiming his starting job. The passing situation is already established two weeks into the current camp, but Mangini said he is more inclined to occasionally present a new look under center.
"It was something last year with him making the transition to a new position and learning all of that, we really wanted him to focus on that," Mangini said about Smith's changed role. "Now we feel very comfortable with his progress there. I like him in the quarterback position and the things that he allows us to do at that position. He's a threat with the ball in his hands both running and passing."
Mangini is more comfortable practicing his secondyear player in a hodgepodge of offensive positions. The coach was adamant that the move isn't designed to be a novelty. Smith agreed, saying that his off-field work consists of spending time in the receivers' meetings as well as watching film with the other quarterbacks.
"Right now, I'm meeting with the receivers and trying to get better at that," said Smith after the morning part of a two-a-day session at Hofstra University's campus. "I come out here and try to get better at quarterback. It just depends on whatever the coaches have me do."
Smith said former Eagle Randall Cunningham was his favorite player growing up. Fittingly, the Liberty, Ohio native's only NFLquarterback experience came last season in a preseason game in Philadelphia. With limited preparation, he still finished that exhibition contest by leading the Jets to 10 points on two fourth-quarter drives. Nearly 12 months later, that performance still resonates with the coaching staff.
"He's handled everything really well and it's his consistency," Mangini said. "We literally threw him in the Philadelphia game with about 20 minutes of work at the team hotel. We said, 'Hey, Brad, you're going to play quarterback tomorrow.' He drove us back, scored. So we figured if we put more than 20 minutes into it, it might work out."
Kordell Stewart was once nicknamed "Slash" for his ability to play quarterback, receiver, running back and even punter for the Steelers. Smith said he saw him when he played and suggested he might watch film of him to pick up some pointers.
Pennington, Kellen Clemens and Marcus Tuiasosopo so far are getting the most throwing opportunities. Smith's practice time has been limited by his myriad roles, though Number 16 said every day is a chance to improve, regardless of the color of the jersey.
"It's about timing and getting your footwork," he said. "The kickoff stuff helps me. It's not a big concern. Just go out and play."
Mangini embraces that mentality, insisting that different looks will help a Jets' offense ranked 25th out of 32 last year.
"If you just have two or three plays a game that he can run, then that's really two or three reps per practice that your opponent has to work on," Mangini said. "They are not gadget plays, they're standard plays. You can put some move-the-pocket type things where he can use his feet. It's the ability to add more pressure and more things to prepare for our opponent."