CORTLAND, NY – “You’re just running with it,” says Brad Smith. He’d just been asked a question regarding the complicated art of returning kicks in the National Football League. The answer may seem like a simplification. Not so.
After further discussions regarding this highly specialized task, where only the fleet and fearless qualify, it becomes clear that the return game is one of those rare peculiarities in life where hundreds of different details collide over the course of mere moments, occurring with such rapidity that the people participating are left with similar impressions as detached observers. What just happened? Who knows? The return man pivoted right to set up a blocker for an onrushing gunner who was leaning left which could have blown up the play which could be a big one if said return man can somehow dance left after the aforementioned block occurs, an action that must happen immediately for the next four blocks to line up perfectly, and oh yeah, the kicker’s lurking back there somewhere ready to sprawl out like a human speed-bump. So sure, “just running with it,” saves everybody a great deal of time.
Smith was a College Star at Missouri, but has been a survivor at the Pro Level. Converted to a jack of all offensive trades after being drafted in 2006, he has hung on long enough to finally exhibit his considerable talents on the professional level. Playing for a team with fanatical fans in the largest city in the world, Smith seems primed to breakout, especially after establishing himself as a legitimate threat to radically alter games toward the end of last season.
In the penultimate contest of ’09, a critical victory against a compliant Colts team, Smith delivered a team record 106-yard kick return touchdown as the second half began. The longest play in Jets’ history, Smith’s feat sent New York sailing toward a key victory, before they thrashed Cincinnati at home one week later. Smith once again was the ringleader, embarrassing the Bengals’ defense, wreaking havoc out of the Wildcat formation. Indeed, the final act of ’09 places Smith at the doorstep of recognition few thought possible while he quietly collected experience at receiver, flashing the occasional glimmer of brilliance. Certainly a capable a return man… which, as illustrated, says plenty.
Smith couldn’t have conceived this route in his quarterbacking days. “Never would have thought,” he says when asked if he anticipated making contributions in the harsh realm of special teams. He reflected on his college days, “You score a touchdown… then you get another turn,” before sharing his current perspective, “It really makes you appreciate another aspect of the game.”
And how does it feel when flying downfield from the opposite end zone, like in Indy? “It feels good, kind of a relief. We had great blocks lined up, and I had to make one guy miss.” Smith has been instilled with a positive attitude from a lauded coach. “You expect it to be a big play… Coach Westhoff always stresses: don’t assume it’s going to be a bad play.” Obviously Smith must have a checklist of mental tasks committed to memory while dashing up field, but his eyes are usually focused on one area. “Mainly the blockers, you want to setup blocks, and look to setup defenders [to go] one way.” And if there’s any fear Smith had to overcome in the face of all that speed and chaos, he isn’t letting it on. “Well you aren’t a slow eater,” he said, “You’re moving just as fast as them.”
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