Without a full offseason to incorporate Brad Smith into their offensive scheme last year, Bills head coach Chan Gailey admitted that he couldn't open the playbook as much as he wanted to make use of Smith's talents. But with the NFL lockout a distant memory and the addition of new quarterbacks coach David Lee, the possibilities with the multi-dimensional Smith look to be plentiful heading into 2012.
The plan all along going into their second season with Smith on the roster was to fully incorporate him into their offensive plans. That wasn't an option last offseason when free agency began a week before training camp with new acquisitions unable to even practice until seven days of training camp had already gone by the board.
"Last year was a year of getting to know everybody and everything, but I'm settled in now," Smith told Buffalobills.com. "Last year was unprecedented. Even around the league you see a lot of guys that went to a different team and they were getting acclimated and it's hard. From personal relationships to understanding offenses and defenses it was a weird situation, but I'm very excited about this year."
And with the recent addition of quarterbacks coach David Lee, Smith has reason to be excited. Lee was the architect of introducing the Wildcat offense to the NFL back in 2008 when he was quarterbacks coach of the Dolphins. The then uncommon formation first took the division rival Patriots, and eventually the league, by storm earning Lee an 'Innovator of the Year' award from The Sporting News.
Miami went 11-5 that season and won the AFC East as they rebounded from a 1-15 season the year before.
Smith finally met Lee at One Bills Drive on Monday as the quarterback/receiver is rehabbing from a recent minor surgical procedure.
"He seemed like a genuine guy," said Smith. "He was with Miami and we played against him when I was with the Jets several times. He was talking to me about the Wildcat and how the Jets put some of his stuff in(to their offensive system), which is kind of true. He comes across like a typical coach."
Having executed a lot of Wildcat plays the past few years with both the Jets and last year with Buffalo, Smith has respect for the complexities involved, though the approach might appear simple to the untrained eye.
"Not everybody has experience with that particular approach," said Smith. "There's a lot of scheming that goes into it, a lot of blocking schemes and small things that go into having success with it. You're not just giving a guy the ball and he's either running it or throwing it. There's a lot that goes into it. It's a different way of thinking. So to have a guy that has done it, implemented it and been successful with it… its good."
Last season with Buffalo Smith was used almost exclusively in the first half of the season with only one of his 20 carries out of the Wildcat coming after Week 8. His effectiveness in short yardage situations was valuable to the offense's third down conversion percentage.
In the first half of the season the Bills had a 40 percent third down conversion rate (40-100) with Smith going 3-5 on conversions himself averaging close to four and a half yards per carry (19-84, 4.42). But after being thrust into a full time receiving role due to injuries at the position for the second half of the season Buffalo's third down conversion percentage plummeted to just 24.2 percent.
"We were going along there and running the Wildcat with him and had that in and when our third-down efficiency dropped off was when we had to move him to wideout full-time," said Bills GM Buddy Nix. "So it made it a lot harder. Brad can be a difference-maker if you use him in the right way. I think his versatility is the biggest thing about him and what makes him the so important."
Being able to use Smith in the Wildcat throughout the season should help keep Buffalo's offense on the field longer, thereby leading to more scoring opportunities.
With spring workouts still a few months off Smith is content to sit back and let Buffalo's offensive coaches do what they do in the offseason. He's not going to be pumping them for information on the plans for him in 2012, but he is very encouraged by what could develop.
"I like to let things settle. Like in basketball they say don't force the game, let the game come to you. It's less stressful that way, but I will say I'll be interested to see what they've got planned and hopefully there's some stuff that I like that we can work on. I just want to win. I'll do whatever it takes. We'll see how it turns out this year."