In the whirlwind that was free agency in the summer of 2011, Brad Smith was quickly signed by Buffalo, but under the new CBA rules could not begin practicing for a week. Late July quickly gave way to August and Chan Gailey and his staff were just trying to get their starters ready to play Week 1. It left the Bills staff with little time to fully incorporate the multi-faceted talents of Smith into their playbook. That isn't the case anymore.
"We're a lot further along with how to use him and what we're going to try to do with him," said Gailey. "I think we've got a chance to have a great little package with him. It's going to be good for us I think."
Good for Smith as well. With the benefit of a full offseason after spending a year in Gailey's offensive scheme, Smith has seen it from a couple of different angles. At quarterback, primarily in third and short situations, and at receiver when a rash of injuries left a void Smith was qualified to fill.
Smith takes his ever changing role in stride knowing his versatility is what has helped him carve out an NFL career.
"Like I say all the time it doesn't matter if I'm taking base snaps at quarterback or Wildcat or receiver or returning kicks or blocking on a punt, everything is important and every play counts," he said. "That's how I approach it."
The approach this season however, is expected to expand Smith's role in the team's Wildcat package at the quarterback position. Just how much more will depend on the opponent each week.
"It depends on the game plan and what coach decides to do to attack a defense," Smith told Buffalobills.com. "We've got a lot of stuff we can do and a lot of weapons on this team. My approach is any chance I get to go out there and make the best play possible, the best decision and make plays for my team. I'm a guy that always wants the ball so that's never a question."
There are a number of factors working in favor of Smith seeing more time in the shotgun to help Buffalo's offense. First, Gailey and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins have a much better grasp of Smith's strengths as a Wildcat quarterback. It has helped them more effectively devise and draw up plays that have a strong chance to succeed.
New quarterbacks coach David Lee is the assistant coach that brought the Wildcat package to the NFL as an assistant in Miami a few years ago. It helped to turn around the Dolphins season in 2009 as they went 11-5.
Lee believes there is still a place for the Wildcat package in the game. The key is having a primary ball handler that is a threat to pass the ball. That really wasn't the case for Lee when he helped implement the Wildcat in Miami.
"With Ricky (Williams) and (Ronnie) Brown both couldn't throw like 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 are nine defenders in the box. If Brad can hit some passes it would make it a lot easier running the ball."
Smith believes the time he's spent with Lee and Gailey this offseason has allowed him to convince them he can be the passing threat they're looking for out of the Wildcat package.
"Coach Lee has been awesome and coach Gailey just sitting down and going through the fundamentals of footwork to reads to what we expect defenses to try to do to us and where we can attack people has been great," said Smith. "There are definitely some plays that we have in mind that we can use pretty consistently. And it's not just one option. There are different variations where they just can't key on this one thing or key on that one thing. It can expand and make (opponents) play the entire field."
Provided the right defensive opponents exist on Buffalo's schedule this season, Smith contributions as the team's Wildcat specialist should be a much more potent weapon than last year.
"I think it takes time to build a rapport to work on things," said Smith. "There are a lot of nuances to playing the quarterback position itself and then you add the Wildcat in and there are things you need to work on. And we are working on that. And third and short is not the only way we can use what we do. That's the exciting part."