I had an interesting debate with valued reader SteveinBrooklyn on Twitter yesterday, a discussion that stemmed from my complete disbelief that the Falcons might even consider actually expanding Antone Smith's role.
One quick note from OTAs: Mike Smith says Antone Smith's role has expanded this offseason. Should make many of you happy. #RiseUp— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) June 10, 2014
If this quote sounded familiar to you, it had everything to do with this quote from November of last year:
Mike Smith said it is imperative to get Antone Smith involved in the offense.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) November 18, 2013
That quote came after Antone Smith ran the ball twice for 88 yards, flashing borderline elite wheels and scoring once against the Buccaneers. It was a revelation for someone who had been buried in the running back depth chart for his entire Falcons career, which stretched back to October of 2009. The Falcons sure got Smith more involved after that, giving him...two more carries. He got all the way up to five snaps against Buffalo, with a critical drop but also 38 yards rushing on a single carry. The next week, he got hurt after one touch.
The crux of my discussion with Steve was that the coaching staff cannot be trusted with anything they say about Antone Smith, while Steve said he believed Dirk Koetter would plan a handful of plays per game for Smith, and injury and ineffectiveness could lead to a larger role. There's nothing wrong with that argument—injuries and ineffectiveness, in particular, could thrust Smith into a real role—but I'm skeptical.
Many things are working against Smith, here, as much as I would like to be wrong. He's said to have his limits in pass protection, he doesn't have good hands and he's an integral pieces of the special teams puzzle, which automatically limits his snaps. You really do have to plan for him, and if he's on the field, teams are going to reasonably anticipate he'll be used as a decoy or running the football. Smith has such great speed that he may be able to thwart defenses regardless, but there's a risk teams will key in on him if the coaching staff actually increases his snaps.
More than that, history is simply not on Smith's side. It beggars belief that the team simply didn't know that Smith was this fast and capable before now, and he'll be 29 years old in 2014 with less than 10 carries to his name. Maybe there's a remarkable career renaissance and Smith is going to become one of the league's great home run hitters as a part-time back, but with Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers ahead of him, I can't see it happening.
None of this is to crush dreams, but instead to caution you—as I so often do—against investing too much of your hope and joy into something that looks like a remote possibility on paper. If Smith gets his carries and excels the same way he did in 2013, we're all going to be thrilled. Just don't anticipate that outcome.