Admittedly, it hasn't been easy an two weeks for Geno Smith, who has taken his demotion in stride. After being benched in Week 8, he has to watch Michael Vick lead the team Smith was expected to take to the playoffs.
Smith began his career by keying a comeback win over the Buccaneers in last year's season opener and finished the regular season 3-1, cutting back on the turnovers that plagued much of his rookie year. But those turnovers emerged again this season despite the promise he flashed during the offseason and training camp.
But the Week 8 performance against the Bills was enough for the Jets coaching staff to pull him in favor of the veteran Vick. They didn't need promise or potential; they needed wins.
“It's very humbling. For a guy like me who likes to compete, it fuels that fire even more,” Smith told Metro New York. “It gives you a different perspective of just how much I like this game, how much I like competing, how much I want to be back out there. It's just going to make me appreciate it more. But for now I need to take what I can from it, grow and get better in practice, by watching.”
There was plenty of optimism about Smith from Jets fans this year, many of whom thought they had a potential franchise quarterback. Smith was raw but developing, they said, and very few had qualms about him starting over Vick in a quarterback competition that never really existed.
Even as he ascended to being a starter, it was clear that Smith had plenty of issues. He still struggled to read defenses in his second year in the league, had difficulty identifying coverages and his pocket presence and mechanics remained a work in progress.
The decision to start Vick came the Monday after he was pulled from the Buffalo game. Head coach Rex Ryan came into the quarterbacks room that Monday afternoon and said he was going with Vick. It was going to be a week-to-week thing and the Jets, who at that point were 1-7, needed some stability.
Smith heard his head coach and took it. He's calling his role as a backup “a tremendous learning experience, even if it's not where I want to be.” There's still a fire inside Smith, who said he is using this as a chance to improve as a quarterback.
He doesn't chart plays but is engaged in the game nonetheless. He looks for tendencies and tries to break things down so that if and when he's on the field again he can be more polished to lead his team.
“I go out there and find out who the nickel guy is and what kind of coverage they play us on third down. I try to be as informative as possible for Michael and [offensive coordinator Marty] Mornhinweg. In a way, it gives me a different visual of the game, seeing how defensive coordinators like to think, what they like to do to counter offensives. Just trying to learn as much as I can while still being engaged with the offense,” Smith said.“The most important thing Mike has done is protecting the football. That's been my biggest issue over a year and a half. I've had some good games, then some times where I've turned the ball over. Those things are critical in the games.
"When it's not there, he does a great job of throwing the ball down or making positive plays with his legs. Always being in that mode of going through your reads, if it's not there, taking off, always keeping it in a positive way and keeping the chains moving.”
Smith's resumé prior to last year's NFL Draft was impressive on paper.He was first-team All-Big East in 2011 and Orange Bowl MVP the following January. He holds numerous passing records at West Virginia, including passing yards in a game, completions and touchdowns. But there were holes to his game.
The selection of Smith wasn't consensus in the Jets' war room, with questions raised by some if he could be the franchise quarterback or a good fit in the West Coast offense run by Mornhinweg. The “Air Raid” offense used in college was geared on the first read and getting the ball quickly into the hands of playmakers. With complex NFL defenses, Smith couldn't get away with the same mistakes he did in college.
In all likelihood, he was going to sit his rookie year, as the Jets tried to push a quarterback competition with Mark Sanchez, the embattled starter who had struggled the previous two seasons but easily outplayed Smith in training camp and preseason. But Sanchez was injured in the third preseason game, which ushered in the Smith era.
Sanchez never played for the Jets again, moving on to Philadelphia this offseason, and with Smith's slight improvement over the final month of last season, he was anointed as their future starting quarterback. Now the future stands on the sidelines, hoping to learn, adapt, adjust and resurrect his career in New York.
“Obviously I want to play but to take a step back from the game — I've never missed a game in college or high school — [so] it's the first time I've ever had to sit and watch,” Smith said. “It's a different perspective. I'm trying to stay engaged. I know when that opportunity comes, it makes you relish it more.
"I know that when I get that chance again, I will be ready now.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.