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Brad Smith has played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, returner and special teams cover man in his eight NFL seasons. (AP)
Every time Brad Smith watched the Eagles play, he couldn’t help thinking to himself how well he would fit in that Chip Kelly offense.
Now he has the chance.
Smith, who has been a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, returner, special teams cover man and just about anything else you can think of during his eight NFL seasons, signed a two-year contract with the Eagles on Tuesday (see story) and could be in uniform as soon as Sunday, when the Eagles face the Redskins at the Linc.
Smith passed his physical Tuesday afternoon and was on the practice field a few minutes after formally signing his contract.
“I know as much as you can from watching it on TV, in college and now in the pros, but obviously he’s very creative,” Smith said of Kelly, the Eagles’ rookie head coach.
“Guys are making plays all over the field. There’s so much talent out there. It’s going to be fun to be a part of and learn from all the guys and hopefully contribute.”
At Missouri, Smith became the first player in NCAA Division I history to rush for 4,000 yards and throw for 8,000 yards. He set 68 Missouri, Big 12 and NCAA combined records during his four years in Columbia.
In five years with the Jets and two with the Bills, Smith had some terrific moments but never really became the super-weapon he had hinted at in college.
He brings career totals of 970 rushing yards, 101 receptions, 949 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns to Philly.
His role here?
Remains to be seen. He’s had his best NFL success returning kicks -- he has four career returns for touchdowns, and his 25.7 career kick return average is sixth-best among active NFL players.
But general manager Howie Roseman said Tuesday that the plan right now is to continue using Brandon Boykin on kick returns.
Smith will likely start out on all special teams and gradually work his way into the offense, most likely as a backup or slot wide receiver but also potentially in the backfield or in the Wildcat.
“His ability to potentially be a four-phase special teamer was important, and then the things he can do where he can really line up all over the formation, that was interesting to us, too,” Roseman said.
“He’s a guy that when you go back and watch him at Missouri, him being able to play quarterback and being a big-time leader and athlete for that team, able to play special teams, has been on punt, kickoff, obviously returned kicks at a high level in the league, versatile guy, can play receiver, can play inside or out, has lined up in the backfield.
“So when we’re looking at our 46- and 53-man roster, having more guys who can do more things is obviously a plus for us.”
The Bills, who signed Smith to a four-year, $15 million contract before the 2011 season, placed him on injured reserve with broken ribs on Aug. 30 and then waived him off IR on Friday. He cleared waivers on Monday and then signed as a free agent with the Eagles on Tuesday.
Smith said he has no idea how he’ll be used here but is excited to find out.
“I get a chance to learn how to do different things, and the skills I do have, to contribute in any way, whether I’m blocking on kickoff return, punt coverage, I’m going to go down and do my best and make a play,” he said.
“It would be cool [to play on offense]. We’ll see what coach has drawn up. My job now is to get acclimated and get into the playbook and see where I can fit in. We haven’t talked, I just got here, we’ll see how it works out.”
Smith said his ribs are fully healed, and Roseman said the physical showed that he’s 100 percent healthy.
But Smith said the last couple months were tough, not only because it was the first time he’s missed significant playing time since the Jets drafted him in the fourth round in 2006, but also because the injury prevented him from doing the conditioning work he wanted to.
“You can’t breathe. You can’t lay down. You can’t use the bathroom without it hurting,” he said. “I’m going to be honest with you. Yeah, and then after a while I could start tolerating a lot more, and once I got clearance to start working out from the doctor up there [about three weeks ago], I started hitting pretty hard route running, conditioning, weight lifting.”
Smith, 29, said several teams contacted him, but he wanted to be in Philly.
“Just watching them play,” he said. “You get the vibe that the guys are really together, guys are grinding for each other, and that’s what I’m about. A team. Guys who care about each other and want to win. Winning’s No. 1 for me.”
Smith’s 7.3 career rushing average is highest in NFL history among players with 100 or more carries. Michael Vick is second at 7.1.
Despite his versatility and ability, Smith has never had more than 370 yards from scrimmage in a season. That was back in 2007 with the Jets. He’s averaged 274 yards from scrimmage in his seven full NFL seasons.
Even though he’s going to be 30 next month, is with his third team in four years and is now in his eighth NFL season, Smith said he truly believes the best is yet to come.
“No question about it,” he said. “Really, no question about it. No other way to answer it. I’m just so excited to be back on the field. I want to get better than I was last year, better than my best year.”