Smith is key for Jets' special teams
The Chaney graduate lined up at quarterback, running back and wideout.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CLEVELAND -- Minutes after his first NFL game in Ohio, Jets rookie Brad Smith was asked whether he was a Browns fan growing up.
"If I was," he said, "I'm not now."
He smiled. Although he decided not to pick sides in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh debate growing up -- "I tried to stay neutral," he said -- his loyalties now lie with New York.
Over his first eight games, the Chaney High graduate (and career quarterback) has lined up as a quarterback, a running back and a wide receiver.
He's also playing special teams for the first time -- "Actually, it's not bad," he said -- and made two terrific plays on punt coverage in Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Browns.
The first came midway through the second quarter when Smith (one of the Jets' gunners on punt coverage) downed a punt at the Browns' 1-yard-line.
The second came in the fourth quarter when he tackled Browns returner Josh Cribbs immediately after Cribbs caught the ball, holding him to a 1-yard gain.
More impressive, it came after a 69-yard punt, meaning Smith had to sprint downfield while battling blockers, then make the tackle on the shifty Cribbs, who has emerged as one of the most talented returners in the NFL.
"I'm having fun," said Smith, a fourth-round pick out of Missouri in April. "It's my first time playing special teams and it's definitely different, but I see the importance of it in the game. I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help the team."
Smith also ran three plays at quarterback -- he handed off twice and lost a yard on another play -- and took two handoffs at running back, running for 7 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter. He finished with 4 net yards rushing and did not catch a pass.
"We've been very effective on plays with Brad," Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "It's something we feel pretty comfortable with and we've been calling plays similar to the things that he's done in college and had success with."
Smith, who is the only player in Division I-A history to throw for 8,000 yards and rush for 4,000, has probably had a more difficult adjustment than most college players. He's been forced to learn two new positions while spending little time at his natural position: quarterback.
"It's definitely a challenge, but I enjoy it," said Smith, who has gained 59 total yards as a rusher and a receiver in eight games. "Every position has its own little intricacies. I think I'm reaching a comfort level and I'm trying to be more consistent."
The biggest adjustment has been the talent level, he said. Although he faced a lot of future NFL players in the Big 12, it's not the same as actually playing in the pros.
"All of these guys can play," he said. "We've got a lot of great players on our team and I'm just trying to soak it up."
Smith wasn't sure how many of his fans were in the stadium on Sunday -- he left four tickets for his immediate family -- but he said it felt good to be close to home.
"Tell everyone I said 'Hey' and that I appreciate the support and the prayers," he said. "I hope they keep pulling for me."