He's never had the opportunity to settle into and master just one position at the NFL level. Brad Smith's versatile skill set has in some ways been more of a hindrance than a help. Though it's allowed him to carve out a role for himself in the NFL, it's also kept him from focusing on one position and perfecting it. Entering his second season with Buffalo it appears that may change.
Since returning to Buffalo for offseason conditioning and OTA practices, Smith has worn only a red jersey to practice. On offense he has lined up nowhere else but quarterback. As far as quarterbacks coach David Lee is concerned Smith is his.
"From every meeting I've had he's been in all my meetings," said Lee. "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."
Smith is still listed as a QB/WR, and he has been taking reps on the punt team and on kick return. He reiterated that he is a team player, but the time he's had this offseason to focus solely on the quarterback position has been enormously helpful.
"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."
Knowing quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Vince Young have been in the league for seven years and have done nothing but work at quarterback, Smith can't help but feel like he's in catch-up mode. But after two weeks of OTAs he sees progress in his game.
"My footwork has improved a great deal," he said. "Just some things I did in college and now I'm getting back to doing it and correcting those things. My stride steps, my balance, that's all improved a great deal. Now it's just about carrying it over to the team periods and going through my reads. It's all about rhythm playing the quarterback position. Once you get in a rhythm then you can be successful."
Last season Smith served largely as a Wildcat option quarterback often serving in short yardage situations. Following a run of injuries at the receiver position, Smith was pressed into duty there for the remainder of the year.
When Buffalo signed Smith just prior to training camp last summer, head coach Chan Gailey was disappointed there wasn't enough time to more effectively incorporate Smith's talents into the offense. Buffalo's offensive brain trust has the time now.
With one of the more talented Wildcat option quarterbacks in the league on the roster along with Lee, who re-invented that package for the NFL on the staff, the Bills could very well have some expanded plans for Smith at quarterback this season.
When Lee ran the Wildcat in college at Arkansas his primary ball handler was Darren McFadden. When he was on the Dolphins staff Ronnie Brown ran their Wildcat package. After a while opponents realized McFadden and Brown weren't really threats to pass the ball and began stacking the run front, sometimes with as many as nine defenders.
With Brad Smith however, who was the first college quarterback to ever throw for 8,000 yards and rush for 4,000, there is a legitimate passing threat in the Wildcat package.
"With McFadden and Brown both couldn't throw like you hope Brad Smith can," said Lee. "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."
"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."
The goal in OTAs with respect to Smith is to find the plays that stand the best chance of being successful when he's in the game.
"Every day the script for him is at the end of the OTAs determine what he does best," said Lee. "What are his four best passes from empty? What are his four best passes with six-man protections? We're trying to find out what he does best right now."
"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."