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Versatile Smith perfect for Wildcat

Jets wide receiver Brad Smith (16) prepares to

Jets wide receiver Brad Smith (16) prepares to take a snap from center Nick Mangold (74) in the first half against the Bears in Chicago. (Dec. 26, 2010) Credit: AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Quick, who's the Jets' backup quarterback?

Mark Brunell and Kellen Clemens are listed behind starter Mark Sanchez, but if you combine rush and pass attempts after taking the snap from center, it's Wildcat quarterback Brad Smith, whose first two carries from that formation against Buffalo last week gained 60 yards.

Based on those two plays and the memory of the 45-yard pass he completed to Jerricho Cotchery to set up the Jets' second TD in the AFC Championship Game last year in Indianapolis, the Colts' defensive coaches undoubtedly devoted significant preparation time to defending Smith in Saturday night's first-round playoff game. If they didn't, it was at their own risk.

"You have a legitimate passer running it," Cotchery said. "Brad played quarterback all through college, and he's dynamic running the ball as well. Across the league, they just try to plug in a running back and let him do his thing. But we have a legitimate dual threat. When he gets in there, we know how much he can ignite us offensively, so that's something we take very seriously. Teams have to prepare for him, and that makes us that much tougher."

Smith was a four-year starter at Missouri, where he was the first NCAA I-A player to pass for more than 8,000 yards and run for more than 4,000 yards. He even has played as a regular quarterback in Jets preseason games. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said they have a package of eight to 12 plays for Smith in each week's game plan. On some of them, Smith has the freedom to "kill" the called play and switch from run to pass or vice versa.

"I've always trusted Brad as a play-caller," Schottenheimer said. "Like the play in the AFC Championship Game last year. We had total confidence that if it wasn't there, he wouldn't throw it, that he would pull it down and run."

There might not be a more versatile offensive player in the NFL than Smith, who is one of the top kickoff returners with a 28.6-yard average and two TDs this season (he was named AFC special teams performer of the month for December) and also has 19 special-teams tackles and four receptions as the Jets' fourth wide receiver. From the Wildcat formation, he has rushed 38 times for 299 yards and has completed two of three passes for 6 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Keller.

Describing the flexibility of the plays designed for him, Smith said, "There's a lot of answers we have built into the package. It's not just one-dimensional even though we've run predominantly out of it. It looks so simple, but there's different reads, different blocking schemes that all go into it being successful. There's a lot to it."

Unlike the typical running back taking a direct snap in shotgun formation, Smith has the ability to understand blocking protections and to read pass coverages. So he can adjust.

"If it's a run, we're usually just reading certain defenders to make the right run reads," Smith said. "If it's a pass, we'll make the pass reads accordingly. Some plays are built in where you can audible to something else, some are running plays, and others, if you see something, you just make a sight adjustment within the framework of the play."

One of Smith's admirers is veteran backup quarterback Brunell, who in his prime was one of the best run-pass threats in the NFL.

"Brad's more than an athlete," Brunell said. "He's a thinker back there, and we give him a lot of freedom to make checks and to read guys and key off different defenders. I mean, he's brilliant. It's something the Colts have to prepare for whether we do it Saturday or not."

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