He arrived in mid-November, 10 games into the season, long after everybody else had learned the offense, long after everybody else had found their role.
Safe to say that we never saw the real Brad Smith.
“I like to think that’s the case,” Smith said after Monday’s OTA practice. “You come in and do what you can and you give everything you got. That’s me in a nutshell. But it’s tough coming in like that in the middle of the season, especially for me, coming off an injury. I think I have a lot more to give.”
Smith began the 2013 season with the Bills but went on injured reserve in late August with a rib injury and was released off IR on Nov. 9.
The Eagles signed him a few days later, and Smith seemed to be a perfect fit for the Chip Kelly offense. Throughout his first seven NFL seasons, first with the Jets and then with the Bills, he was a productive, versatile weapon, just as capable of doing damage running the ball, catching the ball or even throwing the ball.
Smith’s 7.3 career rushing average is the highest in NFL history among players with 100 or more carries -- Michael Vick is second at 7.1. Playing a variety of roles, he netted 970 rushing yards, 949 receiving yards, a 25.7 kick return average, four kick returns for touchdowns and 13 total TDs –- plus one passing -- in his first seven seasons.
But we never saw that player. Without OTAs, training camp or a preseason, Smith never blossomed with the 2013 Eagles. He got just 20 offensive snaps after signing, none in the playoff loss to the Saints.
He did contribute on special teams -- 93 snaps, or 15½ per game -- but the multi-talented two-way weapon who was so dangerous earlier in his career? Just didn’t happen.
Smith had two carries for two yards and caught two passes for 27 yards, but the play we remember most was his fumble against the Cards, when he lined up as a quarterback on a key 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard-line but whiffed on the snap. The Eagles settled for a field goal but did eventually win, 24-21.
“It is tough coming in [mid-year] like that,” Smith said. “You don’t know anybody, you’re not familiar with what they’ve been doing on offense all year, you don’t know the coaches.
“But for me, the guys were great about accepting me and making me feel like I was part of the team. But it’s not the easiest thing to do.
“You want to be out there making plays and competing, but you understand the situation, so you just go out there and do what you can, make tackles on special teams. I can always do that.
“You expect to be in a certain way but you’re not there, and it takes time. So now last year’s behind me and this year it’s totally different.”
Smith, 30, is the only receiver on the roster who’s over 26, so he adds a dimension of experience nobody else really has.
Give him a full offseason in Kelly’s scheme, and the Eagles believe he can be another dangerous piece on an offense that is already stuffed with talent.
“We got Brad so late,” Kelly said. “How does he actually fit in, in terms of what we're doing? He had a really, really, really good off‑season training and has really showed up here in the first couple of weeks in terms of where he is.”
Smith has been working with the first offense in the slot so far in OTAs, ahead of prized second-round pick Jordan Matthews (more on him here), and while it’s only the first week of June, that does show how high the Eagles are on Smith.
A year ago, he didn’t have any of this. With OTAs, training camp and a full preseason in an Eagles uniform, he’ll at least have a chance to be another weapon for Kelly to find ways to use.
“This is huge,” Smith said. “People don’t realize how important this time of year is to get yourself acclimated to the offense, to your teammates and coaches and just to come together as a team.
“I wasn’t a part of that here last year, so it’s just huge for me now.”