Training Camp Notes 8/6: The Beginnings of a NFL Zone Read Option

Updated: August 7, 2011

Sniper and I managed to make it out to our first training camp practice of the year for a up close look at the Bills’ preseason preparation on a hot, muggy night at Saint John Fisher College.

The most striking development at camp was the usage of free agent acquisition Brad Smith. Although Brad Smith was not wearing a red jersey, he spent most of his time with the quarterbacks (he spent by my count less than 5 plays at WR, where he failed to stand out).For a solid 10-15 minutes towards the end of practice, Gailey worked on first team installs with Brad Smith at quarterback. Most plays were out of the shotgun, and there was a lot of zone read option/QB draw type plays worked in, very reminiscient a college spread offense . To me, this indicates that Gailey is very serious about using the Smith Spread package as a weapon in his offensive arsenal. This could be one of the first offenses to effectively implement zone read concepts into the NFL, and I think has a chance to be successful given the following fact: Brad Smith is freaking fast (4.46 in the 40 yard dash). It’s not exactly a revelation that a guy who’s returned 3 kicks for touchdowns in the NFL for past 2 years, but consider this: other famous zone read quarterback Tim Tebow ran a 4.71, and Cam Newton a 4.59. While Smith is smaller than those players (yet he’s still a sturdy 6’2, 212 lbs), his speed gives him an advantage in attempting to do what the zone read in the NFL what the Dolphins did for the Wildcat.

Also, this development should provide an answer to the skeptics that said Buffalo had no business spending 15 million on a gadget/special teams player. They would be right if Brad Smith was confined to those roles, but that’s clearly not what Buddy Nix brought Smith in to do. More importantly, he figures to be a central part of the way Chan Gailey attacks defenses, and perhaps even the catalyst to revolutionizing pro offenses by proving the zone read’s NFL viability. If that’s the case, 15 million is a steal.

Other notes…

  • Shawne Merriman was out of practice because  for the second straight day because he woke up ‘sorer than expected’ according to Coach Gailey, probably just a precautionary measure. This was a disappointment, as I was looking forward to seeing Merriman’s reported resurgence in person.
  • Aaron Williams left with a hand injury, which hopefully isn’t serious.
  • We sat right in front of the middle linebackers with Dave Wannstedt, who spent a large amount of time on gap responsibility. Nick Barnett has already assumed a leadership role, and was clearly the alpha dog of the group. A reassuring sign from one of your prized free agent signings.
  • Speaking of Barnett, he didn’t appreciate a stiff arm heading out of bounds from WR Steve Johnson, and responded to shove Steven Styles (I’m assuming one of the reasons he has the nickname is that he wears glitter on his face during practice). I always like to see this intensity in practices, especially still hungover from the Dick Jauron era.
  • Marcell Dareus sat for many of the first team 11 on 11s, with Spencer Johnson in his steed; presumably a precautionary measure.
  • The defensive line looks way bigger and deeper than it ever has in the past 10 years, not even taking in to account Michael Jasper. Jasper seemed to run the drills about as fast as the rest of the group.
  • ‘The Governor’ George Wilson punished himself for seemingly not intercepting every single pass in his direction by hitting the deck and doing 10 pushups.
  • Finally, new WR Buster Davis appeared right up to speed in his first practice. A tall, fast former Buddy Nix first round selection in San Diego, he had good size and speed, and is officially a cause for injured receivers Donald Jones and maybe even Marcus Easley to worry.
Stay tuned for more training camp updates as the season progresses.