Smith, who explained that he left the Jets because of their focus on Asomugha, was the team's leading kick returner and ran the Pistol Offense (the Jets Wildcat) last season. Smith returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last year and averaged 7.9 yards per carry on offense.
Without Smith, the Jets will have a huge hole in both their offensive and special team units. No other Jet really emerged as a kick returner last season, and the only other option used in the Pistol was LaDainian Tomlinson.
According to ESPN New York, the Jets are attempting to groom fifth-round wide receiver Jeremy Kerley into the next Brad Smith. Kerley was a specialist during his time at TCU, racking up 1,300 yards receiving, 306 yards on the ground, and also ran back two touchdowns as the team's punt returner. At 5'9", 185 pounds, Kerley has potential to be the quick, shifty runner that the Jets will need for the Pistol offense to succeed.
While talking with reporters, Kerley called himself a "special-teams guy" and that his special teams ability "is definitely what makes me the player that I am". However, the lockout prevented rookies like Kerley from getting familiar with the team's offense during mini-camp, which will force special teams coach Mike Westhoff to spend more time with him and groom him into an NFL quality returner.
In the meantime, the Jets may need to go out and sign someone. In a press conference earlier this week, Jets owner Woody Johnson told the media that the Jets were not done in free agency and fans should expect more moves to be made. The team has already signed WR Plaxico Burress and re-signed Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes this off-season, but the Jets may be looking for a specialist to replace Smith.
The name that comes to mind is former Steelers WR Antwaan Randle El. Randle El has been known throughout his career as versatile player, lining up as a receiver, running back, and even a quarterback. Last season Randle El returned 14 punts and in his career has run back six touchdowns on special teams. He has also thrown six touchdown passes in his career, including one in Super Bowl XL, and has rushed for over 400 yards.
Like Smith, Randle El played quarterback in college and has the ability to keep defenses guessing when he lines up in the Wildcat offense. He may not have the same quickness he had five years ago, but he still has the ability to run an offense and pick up chunks of yards. Having a veteran specialist like Randle El will also help Kerley learn the ropes of being an NFL returner and help him progress faster through the 2011 season.
Randle El will turn 32 in two weeks, so he may not be the long term option for the Jets, but he certainly should be considered a one year option while the team grooms Kerley into a quality returner. Not many returners remain in free agency, and Randle El could be that cheap option the Jets could use to replace the talented Brad Smith in 2011.