There are always surprises in any NFL training camp. Kansas City Chiefs fans got one on Wednesday morning, as cornerback (and kick returner) Tremon Smith donned a new number and moved to the offensive unit — apparently as a running back.
But hold on a minute. Perhaps this isn’t that surprising.
Drafted as a cornerback in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL draft out of Central Arkansas, Smith played exclusively on defense and special teams for the Bears. But for the Saks High School Wildcats in Anniston, Alabama, Smith played on defense and offense. He was a standout player as a defensive back — earning first-team All-Region honors in both 2013 and 2014 — but as a quarterback, he was a first-team All-State selection, and was named 3A Alabama Player of the Year.
Of course, there are lots of NFL players who played quarterback on their high school teams and transitioned to other positions when they went to college — or even when they joined the NFL. But few of those who make such a transition were named their state’s Player of the Year as a high school quarterback.
Thus far, the Chiefs have only made use of Smith’s blazing speed — he ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at his college pro day — as a kick returner.
Obviously Tremon Smith isn’t likely to be considered as a backup to Patrick Mahomes — or even Chad Henne, Chase Litton or Pat Shurmur. But we also should also remember that last season — as the Chiefs prepared to the play the Baltimore Ravens — Smith played Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s role on the scout team.
Now that they have second-round pick Mecole Hardman to return kicks as he prepares to become an NFL wide receiver in the coming years, could the Chiefs be thinking they could use that kind of speed in the running back room?
Has Andy Reid dreamed up some exotic wildcat or RPO packages that require three speedsters — Tyreek Hill, Hardman and Smith — on the field?
Or is it just a way for the Chiefs to find another way to keep Smith — who has thus far not even had the opportunity to show us anything as a cornerback — on the roster as a backup kick returner?
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Reid seemed pretty nonchalant about the whole thing.
“Listen, he was the Alabama (3A) Offensive Player of the Year,” Reid explained. “We had a running back nicked up. I had messed with him last year that I was going to play with him a little bit on the offensive side. So, I moved him over today just to take a peek at him and we’ll see how that goes. We know what he can do on the corner side, but I’d like to see him do some of the offensive stuff, too.
“It was my idea,” Reid added. “[Special teams coordinator] Dave Toub and I talked about it. Dave had mentioned to me that ‘This kid could be explosive on the offensive side.’ I gave him that chance.”
Smith told the press that discussions about having him in for some offensive packages happened about halfway through the 2018 season — that “it hasn’t happened overnight.”
“Just a lot of speed,” he said. “Me, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Damien Williams... so it’s going to be a lot of speed on the offensive side and hopefully a lot of touchdowns. Being under Coach Reid’s system, he’s going to find mismatches and find a way to get you open.”
Smith’s words make it sound like he will be used as a receiver — or at least a decoy for other receivers. Apparently the ruse worked on cornerback Kendall Fuller.
“It was weird,” Fuller told the media. “I told some of the guys it kind of got me a couple of times. When he went out there, I thought he was a receiver. So I’m thinking I’m following two receivers — but it’s him and another receiver. It was a little bit weird to see. I’m definitely excited to see what he can do.”
But Reid remained pretty noncommittal about the whole thing.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll just see how it goes. He’ll stay on the offensive side for right now until I get a chance to evaluate him.”
We know Andy Reid loves versatility in his players. We know he loves unpredictability in his offense; he’s always thinking about new ways to keep other teams guessing. In the NFL, a move like this should be surprising. But when Andy Reid is your head coach, perhaps it shouldn’t be.