Former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has had a rough couple of weeks in the court of public opinion, enduring a wave of critical reports about his character and actions during the pre-draft process.
Those sort of reports -- often used by NFL teams to serve their own purposes in the draft -- usually end when the draft begins, but Smith's drop to the draft's second round and his subsequent decision to fire his agents has led to a new round of reports.
"I don't worry about what people say -- my skin is pretty thick," he told the paper. "I've never been in trouble."
He continued to deny that his drop in the draft was the reason he fired his agents, but responded to reports that he was texting and checking Twitter during a visit with an NFL team.
"That's not true," he told the paper. "I got strong remarks from all the teams I visited with. … I couldn't care less what's coming out in the media, because I know what's true."
He did say he regretted taking his agents' advice to skip the Senior Bowl, but denied an ESPN report that he planned to leave New York for Day 2 of the draft.
"My goal was to go up on that stage and shake Mr. Goodell's hand. And that's what we did," he said.
So what to make of it? I'm not sure how much of Smith's story I buy. I'd say there's merit to both sides. It's silly to think there's some grand conspiracy of NFL teams making up stories to assault his character.
I absolutely don't believe his denial about Day 2 of the draft. Suzy Kolber had talked to him minutes after he'd left the green room. She's not going to go on national television and make up a story. Do I believe he didn't know if coming back to the draft for Day 2 would be an option for him? Sure. That's possible, and maybe he told her he planned to just go home, not realizing the NFL would invite him back to the green room for Day 2.
If that's the case, though, he should have explained the situation. And there's this nugget from ESPN's story on Smith's denial:
Smith also took a lot of heat for initially telling ESPN that, after sitting through an agonizing first round on national TV, he wouldn't return for the second day. He claimed he never said that.
"Coming back on Day 2 was never not an option for me," Smith said.
Yet, in separate interviews on the night of the draft and the day after, he never attempted to dispute his comment to ESPN.
Come on, now.
As for the texting claims? Smith isn't the kind of guy who's going to be in serious discussions with teams who could legitimately draft him and suddenly whip out his phone. I don't buy the implied scene from the anonymous report that Smith was on his phone throughout the day and ignoring everyone around him.
However, it's entirely possible that during a visit with a team Smith knew likely wouldn't draft him, he used his phone a bit more or did it at a time when he had limited interaction with an assistant coach in a group of players. It's not hard to see that coach not taking kindly to that and telling a reporter about it. That's probably the best-case scenario for Smith here that I'd buy.
Smith had a responsibility to respond to some of these accusations, though some are more believable than others. The good news for Smith: Just like his draft fall, no one will care about any of this in the fall if he wins the Jets job at some point and plays well or shows some promise.
I don't believe any of these reports have much bearing on the kind of player Smith will be, but it does have an impact on how his teammates will view him. Smith can't prove any of this wrong by verbal denials in the media. He can prove it wrong by being the guy he says he is with his teammates and coaches moving forward.