ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 27: Brad Smith #16 of the Buffalo Bills runs with blocking from C.J. Spiller #28 of the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on August 27, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Brad Smith was listed at quarterback on the Buffalo Bills' roster throughout 2011 despite throwing just one pass. He did manage to snag the third-most passes of any "wide receiver," finishing the year with 23 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown. Despite those stats, Smith has been wearing a red jersey at every practice this off-season, and told BuffaloBills.com that he's been focusing on playing quarterback and working with position coach David Lee.
"From every meeting I’ve had he’s been in all my meetings," Lee told the team's official website. "He’s a quarterback who happens to be a great special teams player, and he plays a lot of receiver also, which is where he was used last year. But he still has a role at quarterback in this offense."
That role is presumably as the team's Wildcat quarterback. He notched his lone pass late in the season-opening 41-7 demolition of the Kansas City Chiefs. (It should be noted it was a long bomb that was picked off when it didn't really matter in the final score.) He also nabbed a rushing touchdown from the quarterback spot in a Week 5 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles from just outside the goal line. He'd like to hone his skills at the quarterback spot, and the opportunity presented by Smith excites the former Missouri quarterback.
"I’ve never had this opportunity that I’ve got with coach Lee and get the extensive work to work on this kind of stuff," Smith told BuffaloBills.com. "I’m just glad I can see improvement and see things getting better, and see things coming back a little bit from a few years ago. So it’s pretty cool."
Following the rash of injuries at wide receiver a year ago, Smith was pressed into service outside. After recording five receptions in the Bills' first nine games, he came on to record 18 receptions in the last six games, including a career-high seven in a loss to the Tennessee Titans. Despite that success, Smith and head coach Chan Gailey don't see that as the long-term position for Smith.
Smith's greatest weapon in college was his ability to both pass and run. He was the first college quarterback to throw for 8,000 yards and rush for 4,000. He likes adding that wrinkle to the team's offense, but knows they need to keep opposing teams on their heels.
"That’s kind of where we’re at," said Smith. "It is exciting. It’s about getting an advantage some kind of way. If we run the same plays that Fitz runs when he’s in the game and then we turn around and run all kinds of crazy stuff, it keeps them off balance. We’ve got some things up our sleeve that we’re working on, and I think we’ll have some success with it."
"With [Darren] McFadden and [Ronnie] Brown, both couldn’t throw like you hope Brad Smith can," said Lee, describing previous Wildcat quarterbacks he's helped coach at Arkansas and with the Miami Dolphins. "If he can, all of a sudden now you’ve got coverage and if you’ve got coverage, then those runs are a lot nastier than if there’s nine [defenders] up there. If Brad can hit some passes and we find something for him to do, it would make it a lot easier running the ball."
Further complicating the picture at quarterback, the Bills added quarterback Vince Young to the mix this off-season. If Smith is going to take meaningful reps at quarterback, he'll have to fight off Young and Tyler Thigpen, who resumed throwing on a limited basis Monday following a small abdominal tear. Even with the uphill battle for playing time, it's where he wants to be.
"It takes time and a lot of work, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work on the craft," said Smith. "It’s something I love to do."
Smith has never topped 300 rushing yards nor 400 combined receiving and rushing yards in a single season. He hasn't topped three pass attempts in a single year, either. With his special teams abilities limited by the kickoff rule, Smith has an uphill battle to earn his four-year, $15 million contract he signed in 2011.