HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -The final play. Six seconds remaining, the ball on the 20, no more timeouts. The New York Jets had to score.
Chad Pennington took the snap, faded back, stepped outside the pocket and lofted a pass into the end zone. In the midst of a gaggle of groping players, Brad Smith soared, tipped the ball in the air, then cradled it as he fell to the turf.
Touchdown.
The catch was greeted with a few hoots and hollers, about all anyone can expect during a minicamp in mid-June. But for Smith, it was another sign that he can be a playmaker in the NFL.
``Everybody goes hard, whether it's in minicamp, training camp or during the season,'' Smith said Thursday after working at wide receiver, quarterback and kick returner. ``So it's exciting whether it's in practice or a game when you do that. Everybody has to treat every play like a game.''
Smith gets a treat in practice because the Jets use him in such a variety of roles. In 16 games last year, he mostly was a wideout, making just nine catches for 61 yards as a fourth-stringer. He also took 18 snaps in the backfield, mostly at quarterback - he was a four-year starter at the position at Missouri - and gained 103 yards. He didn't throw any passes, though.
Still, it was that versatility that enticed the Jets to draft him in the fourth round last year. And it's that versatility that could make a valuable piece of the Jets' offense in 2007.
``Brian (Schottenheimer) is very creative with the personnel groups, the formations, the way he's able to run similar plays with different personnel groups, but fit the skill set of the guy he's inserting into that play,'' coach Eric Mangini said of his offensive coordinator. `` He's always done a good job of that, (such as) the way we used Brad Smith last year.
``I think that's a great situation to have, where you do have a lot of people that you can insert into packages, run like plays so there is the buildup of the reps and still get what you want.''
What Smith wants, naturally, is more time on the field, and he just might get it. The Jets are searching for a No. 3 receiver after being disappointed by the production of veteran Justin McCareins.
Smith has the size (6-foot-2, 210), speed and hands to be that guy. He doesn't have the repetitions at the position, of course, but that's what minicamps and training camps are for. If he shows enough during the summer, he could find himself with an enhanced role come September.
``I'm a lot more comfortable this year running routes and getting a feel for the offense,'' said Smith, who told teams before the draft that he wanted to be selected as a quarterback. Now, he seems to have accepted his fate as Mr. Versatility. ``I've learned a lot from the other guys - those are veteran receivers and DBs - and from just watching how they get off the line and into their routes. We help each other because it helps the team.
``The coaches keep it easy the way they teach everything. And they put a lot of accountability on us to know what we're doing.''
It's impossible for Smith to be fully versed in all of his tasks, particularly if he also will be running back kicks, something he hasn't attempted much before. Asked about adding that to his repertoire, though, he smiles widely.
``I look forward to any chance to get on the field,'' he said. ``Returning kicks? Sure. I like having the ball.''
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