Florham Park, NJ – The Jets were trailing 30-13 in the 4th quarter. They were on offense and after a delay of game penalty they were backed up to the 23-yard line for a 2nd and 15. Geno Smith clearly had a look of annoyance on his face.
The next play he scrambles for 14 yards, directing blockers and fighting to get close to the first down. He then methodically led the team down the field, eventually hitting Jeff Cumberland with a hard thrown eight-yard pass for the touchdown. Smith finished the drive 5-for-9 for 53 yards, 20 yards rushing, and the touchdown.
With less than four minutes left in the game, the Jets would never see the ball again. But what you saw from Smith was an intangible quality you want your quarterback to have. Football is a team sport, but it looked clear that Smith willed the team into the end zone.
Great players do this. Great players just get that look in their eye. That look that no matter what they won’t be denied, and then they deliver. It wasn’t the tying score, and Smith didn’t have the greatest game, but on that drive he looked like a franchise quarterback.
This isn’t an article anointing Smith the next savior of the franchise, but the constant vitriol the kid has received is premature.
“I think the history of this league though shows you that rookie quarterbacks, no matter how good you are, struggle,” said Rex Ryan. “You go back to a Troy Aikmen, I think Dallas won one game that year and by the way, I don’t think he was the quarterback. You’ve had Peyton Manning struggle, Eli (Manning) struggle, a lot of these great quarterbacks have struggled.”
Recent rookie performances have changed that perception, but most of those guys were some combination of better prepared, on a better team, or in a more conservative offense.
Smith was a second-round pick because there were questions about him. He was not expected to be a starter, but he started day one with a receiving corps that might be the worst in the league, and he was asked to pass the ball down the field.
Yet before the bye week the Jets were firmly in the playoff discussion. While he had a bad stretch after that week, his receivers were ravaged by injury.
“I think when Jeremy (Kerley) has been out there specifically and Holmes has been out there a little bit, I think it gives us a better opportunity to see what this young man can do,” said Ryan. “But, I’ve seen him improve certainly in a lot of areas. Statistically, it doesn’t jump off the chart, but I know he’s getting better.”
Look back on the first couple weeks he played. He didn’t have any pocket presence. It seemed like he was in way over his head. While he still makes rookie mistakes, he looks noticeably better these days.
“His footwork has been much better as far as his depth – three-step drops, five-steps, seven-step (drops),” said Rex. “I think he’s got a better feel for pressure in the pocket than he’s done. And the thing that I know has been greatly improved is the way he’s protected the football in the pocket and that’s something that’s hard to do.”
“I’m still learning,” added Smith. “I had an instance in the previous game where I forced the ball late in the game and it ultimately cost us. Just things I’ve been learning from and just overall just getting better and having a better feel for the offense and the guys around me.”
The Jets are well within their rights to bring in competition for Smith next year. That might even be the smart move. But Smith is far from done developing. The rookie has talent, and if the Jets put resources into improving the offensive weapons, Jets fans might be able to see that next season.
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