The Chicago Bears were the first to get a taste of just what might happen when Bills quarterback Brad Smith lines up behind the center in Buffalo's preseason opener Saturday night. He was only on the field for about 10 plays, but the multitude of options that are available to head coach Chan Gailey with Smith on the field will be forcing a lot of other NFL coaching staffs to spend extra time preparing.
"We wanted to work on the Wildcat," said Gailey. "That was one of the things going in. We wanted to see that from Brad (Smith) and Josh (Nesbitt) so we were able to get that on film and see what it's going to add for us. It's really going to help our short yardage game."
It did on Saturday night at Soldier Field. Smith first entered the game at quarterback with six minutes left in the first quarter. On a 3rd-and-2 play from the Buffalo 48, Smith stood in the shotgun, took the snap and ran behind left guard Andy Levitre for a two-yard gain and a first down.
On the Bills' next possession Smith came in for a 3rd-and-1 play. This time he ran wide on the right side gaining two yards and another first down. He got Buffalo another first down on a 12-yard carry on the Bills' following drive, and converted his third consecutive third down when he hit Naaman Roosevelt for an 11-yard gain to move the chains on a 3rd-and-8 in Chicago territory.
All told he went 3-for-4 on third down opportunities with Buffalo's going 5-for-10 on conversions in the first half.
"It's nice to see Brad out there," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "He had a few third down conversions out there. When you have a guy like him who's really a threat to throw the ball, having been a quarterback in college, but he has a good arm and he's got good accuracy and also a guy with such great vision. That was something we saw in practice. He's going to be a tough guy to stop."
"That's what he can do," said Gailey. "He can run the football and he had the one pass and threw it low, but he can throw the football so that's going to be an added weapon for us in the future."
Smith was just glad to be in live game conditions after getting tagged out in camp practices on his designed run plays.
"It felt good not hearing the whistle so quickly," he said. "I think the offensive line and running backs did a good job blocking on that stuff we ran. It's getting closer to what we can do."
Right now Smith is just scratching the surface of what Gailey has in store for him. Buffalo's sideline boss has said that had they had the benefit of a full offseason, the playbook would have opened even wider for his multi-faceted quarterback.
Smith's rapid introduction to the playbook once he reported to camp initially had him feeling like those in the league that have tried to defend him.
"The first couple of days in training camp, I was like, 'What in the world am I doing?' It was a whole new offense, a whole new language," he said. "It was intimidating at first, but I've been in it a week or so and it's starting to really click now, formations, protections, routes. All of that stuff is starting to come along."
When fans see Smith on the field they instantly think it's a Wildcat formation, but Smith was running plays out of Buffalo's familiar four wide set with him in the shotgun. He can throw, he can run, and if there's a back in the backfield he can hand off too.
"I guess Wildcat means… the way I define it is you've got two running backs or a bunch of crazy formations and motions, but a lot of it (here) is just me at quarterback and there's so much stuff," said Smith. "We can run screens, regular offense or what you would call Wildcat as far as quarterback runs. The package has a chance to be hard to defend."
And the more it looks like Buffalo's regular base offense, the more frustrated their opponents become guessing what's going to happen.
"It's all the same," said Smith. "That's part of the plan. Make it all look the same and nobody knows what's going on and go make plays."