Brad Smith: NFL prospect with a catch
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
In eight days, Brad Smith will trot onto the field at the New York Jets' training complex in Hempstead, N.Y., and peer into his future. He's not sure whether he'll like the view.
"I'm interested in seeing how they're going to approach the whole thing" at minicamp, Smith said. "Hopefully we'll get a chance to ... work it out."
At issue is not only if Smith, a record-breaking quarterback at Missouri, can play in the NFL, but at what position. Most pro scouts rated his passing skills as subpar; the Jets intend to audition him first at wide receiver.
"We viewed him as an athlete," said Jets coach Eric Mangini. "This guy is an outstanding football player; he can catch the ball and he can run with the ball. ... We're excited about him."
And Smith, a fourth-round draft choice (No. 103 overall), stressed that he's excited about his opportunity. "I'm just glad to be a part of the Jets team," he said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
But Smith also made it clear that he'd prefer to remain at the position he has played all his life, first as a youngster in Youngstown, Ohio, and then for four years at Mizzou. Smith, 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, owns 59 school, Big 12 and national records - including being the only player in NCAA Division I-A history to rush for more than 4,000 yards and pass for more than 8,000 yards.
"I believe I can definitely play quarterback," he said firmly.
That attitude, while an admirable reflection of Smith's faith in himself, could cause problems, suggested another former Missouri quarterback. The challenge of switching positions is stiff enough without resisting the notion, Corby Jones noted.
"I think the key is Brad making up his mind that he's going to do that," Jones said. "If your heart's not in it at that level, then you're never going to be successful at it."
Jones, a 3 1/2-year starter for the Tigers in the late 1990s, speaks from experience. NFL scouts also didn't feel his quarterback skills were good enough. Because of that, Jones signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League before the NFL draft.
After two seasons in Montreal, Jones relented and was signed by the Baltimore Ravens, who tried him at safety and running back. Neither experiment succeeded, and Jones was released in 2000.
Gil Brandt of ESPN.com, who spent three decades as the Dallas Cowboys' player personnel chief, said Jones' case isn't unusual. "When you take a quarterback and switch them to another position, they're usually unhappy," he said. "With few exceptions, it doesn't work."
An obvious example is Eric Crouch. Rams fans will remember his failed attempt to morph from a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Nebraska into an NFL wide receiver.
Still, there are success stories. Bert Emanuel, a quarterback at Rice, put in nine seasons in the NFL as a wideout, gathering 352 receptions for 4,852 yards before retiring in 2002.
Former Michigan quarterback Jay Riemersma, converted to a tight end, retired in 2004 with 221 catches for 2,524 yards in nine NFL seasons. Mike Tice, the former Vikings coach, was a quarterback at Maryland who played tight end for 14 seasons in the NFL (107 catches, 894 yards).
Recently, ex-Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El signed a reported six-year, $30 million free-agent contract with Washington after four productive seasons in Pittsburgh. Randle El is a true hybrid: He has 162 receptions for 2,012 yards and 54 carries for 316 yards, and has completed 14 of 16 passes for 128 yards. Plus, he has returned kicks and punts.
It's that kind of role that Rams coach Scott Linehan envisions for fifth-round draftee Marques Hagans, who filled several roles at Virginia, including quarterback the past two seasons. Hagans is projected as a return specialist, but he'll get looks at receiver and running back, too, Linehan said.
"It gives you one of those toys on offense," Linehan said. "You can put him in there and he plays something one play and something else another play ... maybe throws a ball once in a while."
Several ex-QBs flourished as pro running backs, among them Dan Reeves, Ed Podolak and Brian Mitchell. A number of college quarterbacks wound up as defensive backs, too. Some were successful, such as Charlie Waters and Nolan Cromwell. Others had mixed results, such as Tony Dungy, Rex Kern, Jack Mildren and Scott Frost.
The Jets have four quarterbacks, including former first-round draft choice Chad Pennington. Plus, they drafted Oregon's Kellen Clemens in the second round.
But Mangini needs help at wideout, where only Laveranues Coles and Justin McCareins chalked up more than 325 yards in 2005. Among the 10 players drafted by the Jets, only Smith is a prospect at receiver.
The technical challenges of making the move are numerous, and the competition will be steep, Jones said.
"You're competing against people who have been playing this position forever," he pointed out. "So understanding how to prepare and understanding the intricacies of that position is key."
Smith, 22, acknowledged that he'll be starting from scratch at wideout and that he doesn't know what to expect. "I haven't done it before. So I'll just see," he said.
MU coach Gary Pinkel is confident Smith can make the move successfully. "I'll be very surprised if he doesn't have a very good NFL career," Pinkel said.
Brandt likes Smith's chances, too. "All you have to do is look at his speed and ability to run with the ball," he said.
Jones agrees - but with a proviso.
"Brad has all of the physical attributes and tools to be able to play almost anywhere on the field," Jones said. "It's going to be all mental for him, making the decision that that's what he really wants to do."
Re: Brad Smith: NFL prospect with a catch
WOW!! rushed for 4000. passed for 8000!!