Jacquies Smith has taken a circuitous route to the NFL.
Starting with a quick stop in Miami, Smith’s journey went through Hamilton in the Canadian Football League, and included a short stay in New York with the Jets. He’s arrived at what he hopes is his final destination with the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s a big relief,” Smith said of making the Bills’ 53-man roster. “Taking the route that I did, to be able to get to this point, I’m just happy that the Bills and this organization see something in me.”
A 6-foot-2, 240-pounder, Smith made the team as a fifth defensive end.
As such, it’s no guarantee that he’ll immediately reach his ultimate goal of being active on game day. But he hopes that his willingness to play the “core four” special teams units (kick and punt coverage and return teams) will be enough to make him one of the 46 players in uniform, starting Sunday with the season opener at Chicago.
“That’s one of the big things I wanted to do, was come in and help these guys on special teams,” Smith said. “To be able to carve out that role, I think it will help a lot, being able to play all the different phases.”
Smith, 24, made the roster at one of the Bills’ deepest positions. His potential as a pass rusher is a major reason why. That’s a skill that’s forever in demand in the NFL. It just so happens that the Bills have two starters at defensive end – Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes – who excel in that job. But the team’s primary reserves at the position, Manny Lawson and Jarius Wynn, haven’t produced gaudy sack statistics in their respective NFL careers, so Smith could get a chance as a designated edge rusher on obvious passing downs.
“This league prides itself on the quarterbacks who can make all the throws,” Smith said. “The reciprocal of that is you need guys who are out there to slow those guys down and stop those guys. I have a skill set that hopefully carries over and is able to help stop the good quarterbacks in this league.”
While the Bills’ depth on the D-line may initially limit Smith’s playing time, it also presents a great learning opportunity.
“We’ve got a lot of veteran Pro Bowl-type players,” he said. “That can’t do anything but help our team out because we won’t have any drop-off when the next guy comes in and he’s ready to play. Depth is one of the big things that carries you in this league. … So yeah, we’ve got a deep room, and I’m just glad to be one of the few that made it.”
Smith played at Missouri. He was on a watch list for the Lombardi Award (given annually to the best lineman or linebacker in college football) prior to his senior year in 2011. He was named to the All-Big 12 second team twice during his college career.
Smith signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 with the Dolphins, but was released prior to the start of the regular season. He then joined the CFL’s Tiger-Cats in October of that year.
His stay up north lasted only a couple months, though, and Smith ended the 2012 season on the Jets’ practice squad.
“Ultimately I wanted to come back, and I felt like I had the talent to play in the NFL,” he said. “It’s been a long journey for me. I just stayed patient and stayed the course. … I’m blessed to be in this position with this organization.”
Smith joined the Bills’ practice squad in October of last season, so he’s had almost a full year of going to meetings and studying film with the likes of Williams, Hughes and Lawson.
“They’ve been helping me since Day One when I got here,” Smith said. “We try to push each other and compete against each other every day to make each other better. I think that’s helped us out a lot – I know it’s helped me out a whole lot.”
The Bills began filling their practice squad Sunday with the signings of seven players.
Linebacker Jimmy Gaines, a Canisius High School product, is part of the squad, as is quarterback Jeff Tuel. Both were released Saturday as the Bills trimmed their roster to 53 players.
Tuel, who was the fourth quarterback to be released by the Bills last week, made the team’s 53-man roster last season as an undrafted free agent and appeared in two games, starting one. He became expendable, however, when the Bills signed veteran Kyle Orton to be EJ Manuel’s backup Friday. Tuel at least gives the Bills another quarterback with knowledge of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s system if either Manuel or Orton happens to get hurt.
Other players named to the Bills’ practice squad Sunday include defensive end Bryan Johnson, defensive end Ike Igbinosun, safety Deon Broomfield, safety Kenny Ladler and wide receiver Caleb Holley.