BEREA: Browns tight end Alex Smith struggled last season to cope with being a forgotten man for the first time in his career.
Smith, however, has returned to his comfort zone — the West Coast offense. And he’s relieved to say the least.
“It definitely feels good to be back in action,” Smith said Friday after practice. “That was probably one of the toughest things I had to go through last year, but I just kept working. Now I’m getting a shot again.”
A glance at Smith’s resume reveals how odd last season must have been for him. Until last year, Smith had played in at least 14 games every season since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him in the third round (71st overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. Smith, 29, was a full-time starter for the Buccaneers in 2007 and 2008, and he played in 17 games, including one during the postseason, with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009.
The Browns signed Smith in May of last year, and he became buried on the depth chart behind Benjamin Watson, Evan Moore and Robert Royal. He was inactive for 11 games, dressed but did not play in two and appeared in only three.
“Just ‘cause you don’t see a guy getting to play, doesn’t mean he’s terrible,” Watson said. “Just ‘cause you see a guy get to play doesn’t mean he’s that great. A lot of times it’s a matter of opportunities and place and time, pretty much. Now [Smith is] getting a chance to come out here and play and perform, and he’s doing a great job.”
Smith has played in both games for the Browns (1-1) this season and is expected to do the same Sunday, when they host the Miami Dolphins (0-2). Last week in the team’s 27-19 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Smith had three catches for 19 yards. He also nearly scored a touchdown, but he had a foot out of bounds when he hauled in a pass from quarterback Colt McCoy in the back corner of the end zone during the fourth quarter.
“He is a steady player, and I really have a strong appreciation for what he is,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “[Smith is] primarily a blocker, but we threw the ball a couple times and he made big plays. In games where you are battling it out for 5-yard chunks, that’s when you see a guy like Alex show up, and I think he did that.”
Smith said he was thrilled this past January when he learned the Browns would adopt the West Coast offense. The change occurred as a result of the organization hiring Shurmur to replace coach Eric Mangini. Smith played in West Coast systems at Stanford University and at every stop during his NFL career with the exception of last season.
“I’ve been around it,” Smith said of the offense. “I know it. I know where everybody is supposed to be, and I know the different concepts. When you know something like that, it just allows you to go play instead of thinking and slowing down a little bit.”
It was difficult for Smith to accept a diminished role in 2010. He said faith helped him endure.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Smith said. “I was brought to this team, and they didn’t bring me to the team just to be inactive. So I just had to wait for my turn. I knew we had a lot of weapons already. I just had to try to find my own niche and fortunately it’s coming this year.”
For the Browns, linebacker Titus Brown (ankle) and rookie strong safety Eric Hagg (knee) have been ruled out for Sunday. On Friday, Hagg practiced for the first time since Aug. 11, but he was limited. Running back Peyton Hillis (illness), wide receivers Josh Cribbs (groin) and Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle) and offensive lineman Tony Pashos (ankle) are listed as questionable. Defensive end Marcus Benard returned to practice Friday after missing the previous day for personal reasons. Benard, wide receiver Carlton Mitchell (finger) and defensive tackle Scott Paxson (shoulder) are probable.
For the Dolphins, cornerback Vontae Davis (hamstring) and defensive end Tony McDaniel (hand) have been ruled out. Wide receiver Roberto Wallace (quad) is doubtful. Cornerback Will Allen (hamstring) and safety Chris Clemons (hamstring) are questionable. Running back Reggie Bush (groin), linebacker Karlos Dansby (groin) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (groin) are probable.