Smith in Familiar Spot
Smith in Familiar Spot
Friday, February 24, 2006
By Nick Wagoner
INDIANAPOLIS – In more ways than one, Brad Smith has been in this position before. In fact, it’s almost old hat.
The Missouri quarterback arrived at the NFL combine here this week with hopes of playing quarterback at the game’s highest level. The only problem with that is that Smith is another in a recent string of athletic quarterbacks who are better athletes than quarterbacks.
Although Smith brought the Missouri program from the dregs of the Big 12 Conference back to respectability with a bowl win in his senior season and became the only player in the history of the NCAA to throw for 8,000 yards and run for 4,000, he just doesn’t have what it takes to play quarterback in the NFL in the minds of many NFL scouts and coaches. Those same coaches and scouts would have no problems with Smith working out as a receiver or even a safety.
Still, Smith insisted on working out as a quarterback and he will do so Sunday morning with the hopes that he will show an arm that is strong and accurate enough to complement his tremendous speed.
“I feel like I'm a quarterback and can be a great quarterback down the line in the league with the opportunity to develop and learn a system,” Smith said. “I want to play quarterback, that's where my heart is.”
In the weeks since he led the Tigers to an Independence Bowl victory against South Carolina, Smith has worked out every day, throwing as many passes as possible. He has been running and says he has been clocking in the low 4.4s in the 40-yard dash.
But running has never been Smith’s problem. He is Missouri’s all-time leading rusher with 4,289 yards and holds almost every other record in school history.
It’s Smith’s ability (or inability) to be consistent in the passing game that has him in a precarious position as he prepares for the draft. Smith has been tinkered and toyed with for all of his time at Missouri, alternately working in a run heavy offense and leading a pass happy unit.
But the numbers point only to a player who is great when the ball is in his hands and average at best when he lets it fly. Smith’s best passing season came as a junior when he completed 60.3 percent of his passes, but he never went above that number and completed a meager 51.8 percent as a junior.
That junior season was also the team’s worst year and the year in which the Missouri coaching staff attempted to tweak the offense the most. Even when Smith was completing passes, they generally were quick hits or dump offs as he averaged less than 6 yards per completion in each of his final three seasons.
For those many reasons, there is one person with some advice for Smith when it comes to changing positions. Corby Jones, the former Missouri quarterback who held most of Smith’s records before Smith, knows exactly what it’s like to love a position and not be able to accept that he’d be better off changing.
Jones, who is now working as an agent at Kansas City based law firm Armstrong-Teasdale, made his plea to Smith to consider changing positions.
“I told him at the football banquet that from my experience, that I would just tell them that you’ll do whatever,” Jones said. “You’ll always have an opportunity to play quarterback someplace. He’s a better athlete than I was even.”
Jones should know. When he came out of Missouri there was plenty of interest in him as a running back or possibly a defensive back. But Jones insisted on playing quarterback.
When it became clear that wasn’t going to work, Jones opted to play for Montreal in the Canadian Football League. He spent two seasons there and a part of a year on the Ravens’ practice squad before heading back to Missouri for law school, not exactly the football dream he had hoped to live.
“I would have been a fourth or fifth round pick at running back,” Jones said. “He could be a second round pick at receiver if he agrees to do it. You are talking about a million dollars. That’s the difference between a sixth round pick at quarterback and a second round pick at wide receiver.”
Even though Jones’ expressed his concerns with a shining example of why Smith should consider changing positions, Smith has been following the advice of others in his pursuit of the draft.
"It's flattering to hear people say they think I can play another position because of my athleticism,” Smith said. “I'm a team player, so it would be something as I'm learning or as I'm helping the team out at quarterback, that I would maybe help somebody in that sense.”
If there is anything that will instantly draw teams to Smith it is his attitude toward the game. Smith has indeed been a team player throughout his career and that hasn’t changed. Smith even knows all about what it’s like to be doubted.
Coming out of Chaney High School in Youngstown, Ohio, college coaches saw a rail-thin kid with limited quarterback experience. He proved everyone wrong then and he hopes to do it again.
"It's always been something, a little bit of a chip on my shoulder for some reason they doubted what I could do for whatever reason,” Smith said. “I do have a little chip, so it motivates me.”
One NFL scout said he envisions Smith as a safety at the next level, but for the most part, Smith is viewed as a receiver. Along the way to setting NCAA records for rushing by a quarterback, Smith passed some of the players that have proved that a player can make a successful transition from quarterback to receiver in the NFL.
The likes of Matt Jones and Antwaan Randle-El have made names for themselves as receivers in the NFL. Smith contends that they are different from him.
"We're different players,” Smith said. “They do different things. I'm aware of all the guys and all their situations. I just don't see myself in that sense, in the way I think, in the way I play, I believe is a little different than other guys. It's hard to put me in a box in that sense.”
Should Smith be drafted by any team to come in and play receiver, he likely won’t pull an Eric Crouch and give up before his rookie season. He says he will do whatever his new team asks him to do, though he would prefer to stay at quarterback and work in on trick plays as a receiver like he did at Missouri.
In the meantime, Smith is using this weekend as an opportunity to prove to everyone else what he has believed all along: that he is an NFL quarterback.
"It comes down to an individual,” Smith said. “And me, as a person, and working at something your whole life and having dreams of doing something and being committed to be the best you can be at anything, that's something that's important to me. It doesn't matter what anyone else has done.”