FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – After two years of middling returns, this third season in the NFL is close to make-or-break for New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith. So far, his teammates say, he's making it.
Smith comes into training camp as the team's incumbent starter, this from an organizational point of view as the reps under center must be divided up in some fashion. But while Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in this offseason (and the veteran has had success earlier in his career with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey), it is Smith who will be the focus of this offense from the early going. It is his job right now and his job to lose.
He also has the highest upside of any quarterback on the roster. When he was drafted three years ago, the Jets had a late first-round pick grade on the quarterback. Clearly at the time they thought he had talent and potential.
But after two years of minimal returns and difficulties in adjusting to the NFL, the door is slowly closing on Smith as a starter with the Jets. That is until this offseason which his teammates say show a new man at quarterback.
“I will say we've seen progress from the time we're here in the offseason as as his accountability for himself, accountability for his teammates. The way he comes to work on a daily basis, the demand for perfection,” wide receiver Eric Decker said on Wednesday after the team checked in for minicamp. “He's taking a leadership role which is important as a quarterback, naturally you're going to have to be the leader of the team. I'll definitely say I've seen progress and hope to continue to see it.”
Accountability popped up a lot in Decker's words. He said that after offseason workouts, the offense would go over the things they did well in practice, the things that need some work. Smith, he says, has taken more accountability in this setting, something he sees as a positive.
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Keep in mind that last year, Smith was notoriously late for a team meeting before a game in San Diego, an incident that underscored his immaturity. There also was the tendency for him to not take blame from the podium after the game, instead saying “we” and not taking the bullet for his teammates. The shift towards a more accountable Smith is certainly a good thing as the Jets quarterback needed some work on that front.
Smith also had workouts with the wide receivers this offseason, away from the team's facility. Perhaps this will give him an initial leg-up in the quarterback competition.
Fitzpatrick may not be heading to Canton but he is no slouch. Smith's teammates are saying that he has done all the right things this offseason to position himself for improvement in this crucial third year in the league. If Smith can cut back on the mistakes, a Jets team that should have a top-ranked defense could contend for a playoff spot.
A lot of this pressure will now fall on Smith.
“He did some good stuff for us this spring. We're all learning a new offense so it's going to take a little time,” center Nick Mangold said. “But he's got the stuff, we've got to do all of our jobs. It's not just the one guy.”