Will special teams save Smith’s spot?

More so than the competition stewing under center at Bills camp; the gaggle of athletes vying for time at receiver has become one of the most intriguing parts of the preseason for the Bills.

One player at the crux of the battle is incumbent gadget player, Brad Smith. Smith’s role on the team was expected to be reduced this season and restructuring his deal during the dog days of summer indicated that he was well aware of what may be coming down the pipe.

With Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin slotted in as Buffalo’s top four wide outs, Smith was looking at the prospect for significantly fewer targets per game before the bags started being packed for St. John Fisher. The emergence of Chris Hogan, hype surrounding Da’Rick Rogers and the performances of Marcus Easley and, to a lesser extent, DeMarco Sampson has thrust Smith into some hot water.

Smith wasn’t going to be a major offensive contributor for the Bills this season. The draft all but guaranteed that the organization was looking for more speed and talent to complement their shiny new rookie quarterback. Even without a defined role on the offensive side of the ball, Smith still remains a quality special teams contributor both as a returner and in coverage.

Of course he has likely been supplanted as a return man too. Considering that, is there still a spot for Smith on the 53-man roster? Or will he be released to ensure a spot for one of the popular youngsters like Hogan or Rogers?

When it comes to skill contributions on offense or even in the return game, Smith appears to be well down the depth chart behind Goodwin, Leodis McKelvin and perhaps even T.J. Graham and Robert Woods. Even if he’s third in that order, that doesn’t make him a vital piece of the puzzle in the return game moving forward. Where he still does offer a lot to the team is on coverage units.

Smith’s veteran status is certainly not something that is going to be ignored on a roster as young as Buffalo’s. Having a steady veteran to contribute on the special teams units – especially coverage units that lost Corey McIntyre and may also lose Chris White – offers continuity that needs to be cultivated. One might argue that it is continuity that is cultivated over a period of time, not just training camp and preseason.

That is where I see Smith gaining separation from at least one of his bubble competitors. Perhaps the Bills will keep Chris Hogan because he just gets open. Maybe Rogers’ upside and talent earn him the fifth or sixth spot. But there may not be room for both. Smith’s skill on the kick and punt teams may be too much to overlook when it comes to ensuring that the coverage units stay effective.

The question that needs to be addressed is “which player makes the team better”. That question doesn’t necessarily cover which two receivers are going to score the most touchdowns, but the ones who will offer the most contributions when they’re active on Sunday – typically that means the players who will be able to play on special teams.

Based on various reports out of camp, most media members don’t expect Rogers to make it through waivers to find a spot on the practice squad. If that’s the case he probably wouldn’t last long on there during the year anyway. I suppose if Hogan continues to get attention from coaches and media, he may be a tough one to sneak through as well. Given that he does have some NFL experience under his belt, I’d be curious to see if he’s capable of finding a handhold on the special teams unit.

If anything will ultimately spell the end for Brad Smith on the Bills roster, Hogan having kick coverage skills would be it. If Hogan is capable of proving his ilk in kick coverage, I’d contend that Smith would be completely obsolete to the organization.

Until that is proven to be the case, I expect to see him suiting up on Sundays.

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