Wildcat, Seminole, TigerCat. All of those terms are different monikers for the offensive formation that former Missouri Tigers quarterback Brad Smith plays for the Jets. While his impact on offense has often been exhilarating and dramatic, his play on special teams has been equally exciting.
“Brad Smith is such a good player,” special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said. “You know how I feel about Brad. He’s one of my favorite guys. Brad has confidence. He sees things well, he has good vision, he’s faster than what you think. Our guys say that in practice, our defenders, they don’t realize it and then all the sudden he bursts by you. He’s done an outstanding job.”
Smith has come up huge in tight situations this season, including converting a late third-and-15 against the Dolphins on an end-around, then returning a third-quarter kickoff 86 yards against the Vikings. At that point in the game on Monday night, the Vikes had closed the Jets’ lead from 12-0 to 12-7.
“He took it almost six deep and exploded out,” said Westhoff of the play that set up Nick Folk’s fifth field goal.
“It’s the same mindset,” Smith said, comparing offense to kickoff-returning. “Everything happens a little deeper, with the whole unit. You usually catch the ball at about the 4- or 5-yard line. There’s a certain timing that you have to have. Everybody backs it up and then you have to run the same thing.”
The fifth-year man, one of the most modest players on the Green & White roster, approaches each play with the same concentration and executes it to the best of his ability. Throughout his career, he’s made that happen, including last year’s 106-yard kickoff-return touchdown against the then 14-0 Colts.
This year he’s already racked up 419 yards on 13 returns, with his 32.2-yard average making him third among NFL kickoff returners.
“I think in every phase everybody is looking for consistency,” Smith said. “Week in and week out you try to do the little things well and that’s my goal, just consistency as far as approaching things the same way. Be it the beginning of the year, or every day in practice, nothing changes. It’s about just trying to keep an even keel and do what I expect to do and what my job is.”
One place in which steadiness and solid decision-making is crucial is in punt formation. On those plays, Smith is charged with the duty of deciding whether to check out of a fake punt. In fact, Westhoff revealed that Smith checked out of two early-season fakes.
“He knows the exact look, if they’re not in the exact look,” said the coach. “And the other thing is that you can never be wrong by getting out. If there’s any doubt, we’re going to kick the football.”
“There are just certain looks per week you look for to run a fake against,” Smith said. “If it’s not there, you just call it off and punt it, and that’s basically what it comes down to. If there’s too many guys to one side or it’s not the look we’re looking for, we get out of it.”
With his heady play and physical attributes, the 2006 fourth-round pick has made an impression on rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson, who has been one of the two players returning punts for the Jets this season. Smith and Wilson traveled together to a local elementary school to assist in a Play 60 event earlier this season and throughout the year Wilson has been able to watch Smith’s decision-making, returning skills and penchant for making big plays in pressure moments.
“You could call him that,” Wilson said when asked if Smith was a “clutch” player. “I think he does a good job of reading his blocks. Once he gets the ball, he times it up and runs full speed with the guys blocking. As soon as they hit their blocks and once he gets rolling, he’s hard to take down.”
*Special Teams Saturday.
Tags: Brad Smith, Kyle Wilson, Mike Westhoff
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