Fast-playing Brad Smith fits in well with Eagles

Brad Smith has the versatility that Eagles coach Chip Kelly admires. Smith has been a wide receiver, quarterback, running back, and return man.       YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Brad Smith has the versatility that Eagles coach Chip Kelly admires. Smith has been a wide receiver, quarterback, running back, and return man.       YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 06, 2014

If Brad Smith reaches back far enough into his memory, he still can see those hefty defensive linemen huffing and puffing week after week through the fall of 2005, through his senior season as the University of Missouri's starting quarterback.

The Tigers went just 7-5 that year, but Smith understood even then that he was at the forefront of a football revolution. Missouri averaged 81.8 offensive plays a game that season, the most in the country, and the breakneck pace of the Tigers' no-huddle approach helped Smith rush for more than 1,300 yards, pass for more than 2,300, and account for 29 touchdowns.

"That was our edge," Smith said Thursday. "We would just run them into the ground as much as we could. By that sixth or seventh play, even after that first drive, the big guys were done."

Smith didn't go to Oregon, of course, and he won't play on the Eagles' starting offense or defense this season, and he signed with them only last November. But he might be the Chip Kelliest of all the players on Chip Kelly's roster.

Over his eight years in the NFL, he's been a wide receiver, a quarterback, a running back, and a kickoff and punt returner, his career characterized by the versatility that Kelly prizes. And when the Eagles' regular season begins Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Smith finally will find himself used as a weapon within a philosophy similar to the one that made him so prolific in college.

"I was hoping it would happen sooner," he said. "That's, like, basic. You go fast; they get tired."

Although the New York Jets often used Smith in the Wildcat formation in their otherwise conventional offense, and although the Buffalo Bills did go to a hurry-up attack during his two-plus seasons there, neither of those systems approximates what Kelly did and will do with the Eagles. Neither played with the pure speed that the Eagles can and will use, and Kelly's willingness to take a strategy that had become common at college and implement it at the sport's highest level intrigued and attracted Smith.

It was part of the reason, Smith said, that he decided to sign with the Eagles last year after the Bills released him from their injured-reserve list.

For Kelly and the Eagles, Smith's excellence on special teams, as both a returner and a potential member of the coverage team, gave him value beyond that of another player who might be a team's fourth- or fifth-best wide receiver and nothing more. Smith won't start ahead of rookie Jordan Matthews as the slot receiver, and he might not return more than a few kicks or see the field for more than a couple of gimmick plays. But he can carry out all those tasks, and his experience at Missouri in a hurry-up system, Kelly said, was a serendipitous benefit - a by-product of Smith's presence in a college program that embraced change at the same time Kelly was doing the same thing.

While Smith was running the show at Missouri, Kelly was the offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, putting up pinball-machine numbers - more than 400 yards of total offense per game in seven of his eight seasons, more than 30 points a game over his last four - and validating his belief that the faster an offense played, the more an opposing defense would struggle against it.

With the run-and-shoot and the Buffalo Bills' K-gun offenses now deep in the past, this concept was an under-the-radar idea for NFL coaches until Bill Belichick began picking Kelly's brain and weaving those methods into the Patriots offense. But the likes of Kelly, Gary Pinkel at Missouri, and Mike Leach at Texas Tech had been acclimating future pros to it for a while.

"It started at a lower level and worked its way up, but I also think the players have been trained in it," Kelly said. "So when you're teaching people in the NFL now tempo, well, Brad Smith was an up-tempo quarterback at Missouri. . . . So it's not like when you start to introduce the concept to some people, they don't understand it. There are a lot of guys coming up through the college ranks in the NFL who have done it at the college level. It's just a matter of, what are your mechanics to get it done? It's one of those things that's kind of coming from the bottom up."

At Missouri, Smith would get signals from the sideline for a certain blocking scheme that the Tigers' offensive linemen were to use and a certain route combination that their receivers were to run. Kelly's mechanics are different.

"I'm not going to tell you exactly how we do it," Smith said, but "the mentality of going fast is probably the biggest thing."

It's not the kind of thing that a player, or a creative coach who might need him, forgets.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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