When Brad Smith took the field Sunday for his first play as an Eagle - he lined up at quarterback on first and goal and dropped a shotgun snap and had to scoop up the loose ball and everyone began wondering why Chip Kelly had put him in the game in the first place - it was hard not to think of Rex Ryan.
Smith's first five seasons in the NFL had been with the New York Jets. The final two were under Ryan, and Ryan loved Smith.
He loved him so much that, throughout the 2012 season, from beginning to end of the Jets' disastrous experiment with Tim Tebow, Ryan often would lament how much the Jets missed Smith and all his Swiss-army-knife-style attributes.
He loved him so much that he actually used the word once: "[Tebow's] replacing a guy that I love, who is Brad Smith." Tebow was supposed to be the same sort of player for the Jets that Smith, who signed a free-agent deal with the Buffalo Bills in 2011, had been. Tebow wasn't close.
Smith played running back, quarterback, and wide receiver. He played on special teams. He could run the Wildcat, the read-option, the zone-read. He could throw passes, return kickoffs and punts, cover kickoffs and punts, speed around defenders on a reverse, pull off a nifty play-action fake, beat a cornerback deep.
He averaged close to 8 yards a carry and had 101 receptions. He rushed for four touchdowns, caught two touchdown passes, returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, and threw a pass for a touchdown. He was so versatile, so handy to have, the Jets should have paid his salary in a few easy installments of only $39.95.
Until he broke two ribs this preseason - "the worst pain I've ever felt," he said Tuesday - Smith filled a similar role for the Bills, although he was a bit less productive.
But he got hurt at a particularly inopportune time: Two of Buffalo's quarterbacks, E.J. Manuel and Kevin Kolb, also suffered serious injuries, and the Bills needed to create roster space to bolster their quarterback depth. So they released Smith, freeing him to sign somewhere else. The Eagles picked him up last month, and there he was Sunday, fumbling that snap and inspiring an exasperated sigh from anyone who had spent 14 years living with Andy Reid's compulsion to get cute in the red zone.
But Reid isn't around here anymore. Kelly is, and not only should everyone expect to see more of Smith in the Eagles' offense, there's reason to believe he will become an asset before long. Yes, everyone remembers the way Reid and Marty Mornhinweg fiddled with the Wildcat, using DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick in the role, frustrating Donovan McNabb, and disrupting the rhythm of the entire offense.
The difference with Kelly is that he eliminates much of what he regards as the unnecessary and burdensome machinery of a standard NFL offense: substituting a new personnel package, huddling, breaking the huddle, calling the play, running the play, shuffling many players in and out again.
"There are so many moving parts and things going fast that even if you got out of the flow, you're right back into it," Smith said. "It's a different vibe."
It sounds a little counterintuitive. If the offense is moving faster, wouldn't bringing in a new quarterback cause an even more damaging interruption to the operation's timing? The players said no - the opposite is true.
"There's kind of an understood sense of urgency everyone has, and it will allow you to do things like that," guard Evan Mathis said. "The tempo helps create that sense of urgency, and there's also the mind-set that you can apply pressure to your opponent. You're showing them things they're not used to. How are they going to line up to a look they haven't seen? Brad fits what we're doing here, absolutely."
It didn't look that way Sunday, on that single play that went so badly. Smith said that his ribs are still healing, that he's still getting back to full game shape. So in this system, with Smith's productive past, there likely will be more to see of him over these next five weeks or more, and there will be a coach in New York who will be missing him every day.