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Smith: Move Could Pay Off Big

Posted Nov 12, 2013

Brad Smith is here to help. So, how does a guy who comes in five days before the 11th game of the season help a team on the rise? Let us count the ways ...

It is a move that makes every kind of sense, adding a veteran like Brad Smith, a do-it-all kind of player who fits what Chip Kelly wants: He makes plays, he’s versatile and he is eager to get his NFL career back on track after some tough times.

Once upon a time, Smith was the early pioneer of the Wildcat offense. He was a quarterback in his college days who passed and ran as successfully as any in the history of the game. Smith was Missouri’s all-everything on and off the field, and then he joined the Jets as a fourth-round draft pick and became, well, a little bit of everything.

Smith played some quarterback with New York, but he wasn’t going to line up every down and stay in the pocket. He played some and ran some out of the shotgun, a direct snap to a player who, at 6 feet 2 and about 215 pounds, ran well and moved the chains. Smith was also a receiver who used his big body and strength in the slot. Special teams also excelled on special teams as a return man and in coverage, and he became a valuable piece of what the Jets were doing in just about every phase.

Then it was a move to Buffalo in free agency and more of the same until a rib injury forced Smith to Injured Reserve and, last week, to the streets.

Here is Smith now, healthy and ready to contribute down the stretch. The Eagles inked him to a two-year deal, so Smith has a chance to fully grasp the system in the course of the offseason and find out just how his expansive tools can be used.

For the rest of this season, Smith is likely to have a chance to help a return game on kickoffs and perhaps on punts – although Smith has only returned punts sporadically, two, in 2009 to be exact, in the NFL -- that has not taken hold this season. The Eagles would love some big returns down the stretch to change field position and win a key game.

The Eagles agree with Smith that he is 100 percent healthy after a washout of a season to date. The rib injury suffered in the preseason is fully healed. Smith was removed from Injured Reserve last week and waived by the Bills and then cleared waivers on Monday. The Eagles got the deal done very quickly after that.

General manager Howie Roseman calls Smith a “four-phase” special teams player, so you can expect to see No. 16 in coverage and in the return game on Sunday. The Eagles will try to integrate Smith into the offense in some way, perhaps, but it’s awfully difficult to do on such short notice. Smith will learn the offense in bits and pieces and any packages that are designed specifically for him, and then in the offseason months he will digest the entire playbook.

Smith averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns with an 89-yard touchdown last year for Buffalo, and he has a career average of 25.7 yards per kickoff return, with four scores.

This is an all-win move for Roseman and the Eagles. They had an opportunity to improve the roster and they did so, releasing wide receiver B.J. Cunningham to make room for Smith. This return game needs some punch, and if Smith is the same player that he’s been in his eight-year career, the Eagles have stepped up in that phase of their football team.

Roseman, in fact, has done an excellent job of fortifying the roster since last summer with some under-the-radar moves that have paid off nicely. In mid-August the Eagles traded offensive lineman Nate Menkin to Houston for wide receiver Jeff Maehl, and Maehl has worked his way into the rotation both on offense and special teams. Linebacker Najee Goode was claimed off of waivers after his release in Tampa Bay, and Goode has improved so much that he replaced Mychal Kendricks for 70-plus snaps at inside linebacker in Green Bay after establishing himself as a core member of Dave Fipp’s special teams. Midway through September the Eagles worked out and then signed cornerback Roc Carmichael, and he jumped right into a gunner role in kick coverage and move up the depth charts in the defense. With Bradley Fletcher inactive against the Packers, Carmichael started and played a solid game on the outside and figures to challenge for playing time if Fletcher remains out.

These are the kinds of seemingly small moves – to the fans and most of the media, but not to the team – that can pay big dividends. Added to that is some good fortune: When the Eagles gained Goode, they lost Emmanuel Acho, who joined the Giants’ practice squad for the first half of the season. Acho, though, returned to the Eagles when the team cut cornerback Shaun Prater, whom Carmichael quickly outplayed on the depth chart.

Smith is the latest addition, and the Eagles think he can make an immediate impact. Smith may or may not reprise his role as a Wildcat quarterback any time soon, but he is going to have a chance to make some plays on special teams.

And at this time in the season, every piece of the puzzle helps. Signing Smith was a master stroke, a move that has a chance to pay off big time in the weeks ahead.

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