Brad Smith aims to help Eagles at wide receiver

Brad Smith aims to help Eagles at wide receiver
August 6, 2014, 8:00 am
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Brad Smith has only picked up 200 or more receiving yards in two of his eight seasons in the NFL, but he's aiming to help out the Eagles at the wide receiver position this season. (AP)

Brad Smith has played many positions throughout his eight years in the NFL.

Wide receiver. Backup quarterback. Kick returner.

He also spent time in the backfield as a Wildcat specialist earlier in his career with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

Now, entering his ninth season and second with the Eagles, Smith is trying to focus on becoming a better receiver.

“I’ve played receiver during my career off and on,” Smith said Tuesday after practice. “Now, being able to work on the nuances a little bit more, especially with this offense -- kind of knowing what they’re looking for has been a blessing.”

When the Eagles released their first official depth chart on Monday, Smith was listed as the first-team slot receiver, something of a surprise considering he caught just two passes for 27 yards last season.

“I’ve never really played much slot,” Smith said. “Coaches have always moved me around for different packages and personnel, so I’ve played a little bit of everything.”

In eight years, only twice has Smith finished a season with more than 20 catches and 200 yards, the last time being in 2011 with the Bills, when he caught 23 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown.

The last time Smith finished a season as one his own team’s top three wide receivers in terms of yards? That would be 2007 with the Jets, when he caught 32 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns playing behind Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles.

In fact, Smith has only four more career receiving yards (976), than he does career rushing yards (972). His most impressive year as a pro was in 2010, when he finished with 1,432 kick return yards, 299 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, yet caught just four passes for 44 yards.

Still, the Eagles have been impressed with his performance as a receiver in camp thus far.

“He’s one of the guys that’s really benefited from all the reps he’s getting,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Tuesday. “He’s done a great job. I think he’s improved by leaps and bounds from a year ago within our offense.

“He’s a veteran player. He’s a very steady competitor and player on special teams and he’s developing himself more as a wide receiver within our offense and he’s done a good job.”

No matter how much Smith has improved as a wide receiver, it is still difficult to imagine him finishing the season as the team’s first option in the slot.

Rookie second-round pick Jordan Matthews is currently listed behind Smith on the depth chart, and it is likely the Eagles are keeping him on the second team as a way of bringing him along slowly. It would be very surprising if Smith finished the season with more catches or yards than Matthews.

“We don’t view it [as a competition],” Smith said. “We’re trying to get better individually because ultimately when it comes down to it, it’s can we win games as a team.”

Even with his current place on the depth chart, it’s not a guarantee that Smith will end up on the Eagles' final roster.

The first four spots are locked up by starters Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper and rookies Matthews and Josh Huff, leaving just two more receiver spots. While it is likely that Smith will snag one of those spots, he still has plenty of competition in Arrelious Benn, Ifeanyi Momah, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.

While Smith’s versatility would seem to give him an edge over those players, it's still debatable as to how much of his versatility the Eagles really need. Last season he received only two carries and returned just four kicks.

When asked what he would like his role to be, Smith predictably responded, “Whatever Coach wants.”

As he is currently not listed as one of the team’s kick returners, it seems as though Chip Kelly wants him to focus on improving the team’s depth at wide receiver, something the Eagles certainly could use.

“Coach moves us all around a lot,” Smith said. “There are certain formations we could be anywhere. As far as game planning, Coach could come up with anything.”

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