Antone Smith might be the most enigmatic player on the Falcons' roster. No one is quite sure what he's capable of; in fact, I heard he recently cured cancer, while blindfolded. And while his special teams value was never in question, his ability to contribute on offense remains an hot button issue. It's spurned so much debate, Dave killed a man with a trident - it escalated quickly.
For some, Smith's lack of involvement with the offense is easily explained. They rely on the facts: he's impressed during the preseason and his sample size is limited. He may have it in limited action, but he wouldn't have it if forced into more regular duty. That's a fair criticism. And as his critics say, were he capable enough, he'd have had plenty more opportunities. We don't see the practices, we don't watch the game film like the coaches do, etc. Let's leave playing time to the experts.
But could there be something else going on? Could it be that Smitty isn't just willfully ignoring Smith's talent? Could there be, I don't know, a learning curve involved? Jay Adams has the relevant quote.
"The biggest thing is, you begin to see things so much that it becomes a part of your game, so learning defenses, schemes and what to expect... you pick up on that and it can help your game speed up even more," Smith said earlier this week. "When the game's kinda fast on you, you kinda play slow. But when it slows down, you just speed up, and that's when everything just opens up for you. With me, things have just slowed down at this point because I know the defenses now. I know what to expect when they've got different fronts."
It makes a lot of sense. Smith's fast, there's no doubt about that. He's athletic, shifty, and tough too. But it's not clear he's always had the vision necessary to play running back in the NFL. You could, at least in theory, put Usain Bolt in football pads and hand him the rock. But if you did, more often than not, you'd see him tackled behind the line of scrimmage. That's because vision is an absolutely critical part of running the ball in the NFL. And I'm not talking about the kind of vision you need to be a good college player. You need elite vision.
It appears Smith may be finally putting it all together, and you'd better bet the Falcons knew he had it in him.