In the beginning, Geno Smith clashed with his quarterbacks coach, David Lee, an old-school disciplinarian.
"We butted heads early, just like any guy coming in," Lee said Monday. "He was late for a meeting and I went nuts on him, and he had to learn, 'You're not late ever, for anything.' "
Lee is good for Smith because of his buttoned-down style -- and he also happens to be a well-regarded technician. Truth be told, the entire organization is developing Smith with a different approach than it did with Mark Sanchez in 2009. There's no coddling.
There was concern about Smith's ability to play hurt, so when he sprained an ankle in the preseason, he wasn't allowed to take any days off. It probably slowed the recovery, but the coaches wanted to teach him a lesson.
Even though Smith is entrenched as the starter after winning the job by default, he hasn't received a long-term commitment. Technically, he's week to week. We all know it's a matter of semantics, but the braintrust feels it's important, if only symbolically, to withhold a coronation. In '09, Sanchez was handed the starting job after an abbreviated competition/charade and never felt threatened, probably not until he was benched late last season. The Jets want to make sure Smith doesn't grow up with a sense of entitlement.
In '09, Sanchez was largely insulated from the media. There was little interaction beyond the league requirement. He was granted veteran status, designated as one of the two players required to speak only once during the week. That chafed some veteran teammates. Smith is a twice-a-week guy, and he's almost always willing to go above and beyond.
Smith displays more maturity as a rookie than Sanchez did in his first few years. It's hard to imagine Smith chomping on a hot dog while sitting on the bench during a game, as Sanchez did in '09. Unlike Sanchez, a highly emotional player, Smith is even-keeled. He's such a flatliner that some teams perceived him as aloof during pre-draft interviews, which may have contributed to his slide.
"He is the calmest guy," Lee said. "I mean, he goes out in pregame warmups, he's calm. We come in, beat New England, he's just as calm as can be. I just wanted to slap him, and say, 'Hey, we won.' He's really calm, and that's a great trait to have as a quarterback with the pressure that's on all these games."
Of course, outward demeanor can be overrated. Before he won a Super Bowl, Eli Manning was deemed too stoic. Now he's Cool Hand Luke because he has a couple of Super Bowl rings. It's all about winning. Smith is 5-4 as a starter; Sanchez started 4-5 as a rookie, finishing in the AFC Championship Game. We'll see how it goes for Smith, but the early signs -- at least from an intangible standpoint -- are encouraging.
"I've always been the same person," he said. "I've always had this demeanor, and I don't think it will change ever. I don't know what it is about me. I just think it's in my mental makeup and really in my genetics to be this way."
Smith has a good teacher in Lee, who doesn't own kid gloves. He's a no-nonsense coach and won't hold back on criticism, feelings be damned.
"I'm just dead honest with him and pour out my heart, and I want him to be the same way with me," Lee said. "And I think it's why we've got a great relationship today, because we're both really honest with each other."