New York Jets: Geno Smith
“Last week, we were 1-for-4 [one touchdown in four trips],” New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith said Wednesday.
"And then," he continued, "when it comes to penalties and those things, I’m sure we’ll straighten that out. We talked about it; we’re emphasizing it all week, so we’ve got to get better at the small things, and when we get in the red zone, we have to score points."
The Jets ran 11 plays inside the 21-yard line in Week 1 that produced a net of minus-39 yards. Included in those 11 plays: two sacks (minus-31 yards) and two penalties (minus-25 yards).
As Smith, who lost a fumble at the 1-yard line, said, those things need to be cleaned up. You can get away with it against the Oakland Raiders. But the Green Bay Packers are a different story entirely.
“Every game is different,” Smith said. “Every single game is different and there will be critical moments in every game and you’ve got to be able to manage it, and it’s about how you do in those critical moments. For us, it’s about just managing the situation. We try to be masters of situational football, and that’s exactly what it is. We have to be mindful of the situation at all times."
Apparently Smith agrees with him.
"I feel good about our team making a Super Bowl run," Smith told the NFL Network on Sunday, at a youth football camp he's hosting in Florida.
The QBs like the Jets' chances, but they're probably in the minority. Bovada currently gives Gang Green 66/1 odds to win Super Bowl XLIX, ahead of only the Buffalo Bills (75/1), Oakland Raiders (100/1), Tennessee Titans (100/1) and Jacksonville Jaguars (200/1).
And an anonymous survey of 26 NFL insiders, the results of which were published last week by ESPN.com, graded Smith as the worst starting quarterback in the league.
But early July is the time to be optimistic, right? Training camp is still two weeks away, and the real games are two months away. Reality will set in soon enough.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.
Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.
Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.
The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?
Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.
Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.
James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.
Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?
Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.
Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.
Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.
Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.
@mikerodak running backs look to be more interesting than I expected, and even though there isn't competition QB growth is #1- Bob rieth (@Bob_rieth) June 16, 2014
Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?
Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.
Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.
Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.
@JamesWalkerNFL Dion Jordan. Can't hold him back anymore. He will get 10 sacks and will be on the field 40 plays per game- Tom Ernisse (@ternisse13) June 4, 2014
How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?
Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.
Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.
Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.
Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.
@MikeReiss Two. (hoping he goes out with a ring (a la John Elway)- Because i think he has less than 3 - I'm watching the back up QB battle.- Elizabeth (@capesquad) June 18, 2014
"I've always been a fan of open competition. I think it's healthy for a team," the Hall of Fame running back said Monday at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic at the Oheka Castle in Huntington, N.Y. "Quarterback is a very important position on the field. One thing that doesn't go over well with the entire team is, if there's one person that deserves it more than another and it's because of favoritism (that) someone (else) gets the position, that doesn't go over well."
The former Jets great wasn't suggesting the team has created a potentially toxic situation. He actually thinks it can work if both quarterbacks buy in.
"The good thing about the dynamic between Vick and Geno is that you have a younger guy and an older guy with a lot of experience," Martin said. "I think Vick was one of the pioneers of that style of quarterback, along with Randall Cunningham and guys like that. I think Vick has a lot of knowledge and wisdom he can pass on to Geno.
"I think Geno has a world of talent, but at quarterback it's really hard to make all that talent come together and express itself properly out on the field. It's about leadership. The quarterback has to be that guy."
Martin was one of many celebrities at the golf tournament, which raised money for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the Health & Humanitarian Aid Foundation.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Michael Vick is in the fourth stage of his career. We've witnessed the rise, the fall and the comeback, and we wonder how it will end for one of the most polarizing athletes in our nation's history. Is there a happily-ever-after in his future? Does he deserve one?
Vick sat in front of his locker Thursday, pondering the questions. His dream finish, he decided, is to win a championship for the first time in his life. Yes, he believes it could happen with the New York Jets, but there's a twist. In his football fantasy, he's not the Jets' savior -- and he's OK with that.
"Me winning a Super Bowl, even if it's not me behind the center," said Vick, describing the ultimate end to his playing days. "If I can walk away from this game with a ring, I'll be so thankful, because I've never won a championship at none of the levels that I've played on. Almost had one in college. I want a ring.
"I think it can happen this year," he continued. "I think Geno [Smith] can take us where we need to go. It'll seal my legacy -- for me, myself. For the public, I don't know."
As he previously stated, Vick expects Smith to be the Jets' opening-day starter. Evidently, he thinks Smith is ready to make a quantum improvement in his second year, but that remains to be seen. It's quite possible that, at some point, the Jets will turn to Vick, and wouldn't that be a must-see event?
It happened with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, when he won NFL Comeback Player of the Year, but this is a new stage with a new audience, and another cynical fan base to win over. He's taking an unselfish approach, painting himself as the wise old mentor, but it doesn't take long into the conversation to sense that Vick absolutely believes he's still got it.
But that was when he was a young blur, a freakishly talented two-way threat. Vick, who turns 34 on Thursday, acknowledged he's not that guy anymore. But he doesn't see himself sliding into a rocking chair anytime soon. He still feels he can win a Super Bowl for somebody.
"I think it's still realistic," he said. "You got guys like Peyton [Manning] and [Tom] Brady and Drew [Brees], all 36, 37, 38 years old and still playing. Times have changed. It's all about taking care of your body. ... I still feel like I can move as fast -- not as fast as I could a long time ago, but enough to get away. With that, I can help a football team win games. I can help our football team win games."
If the quarterback "competition" plays out as expected, Vick will begin the season on the bench, backing up a player -- Smith -- who was 12 years old when Vick won a playoff game on Green Bay's frozen tundra. Just because Vick might be a backup doesn't mean he considers himself one.
"I still consider myself one of the 32 [top quarterbacks]," he said. "People might want to argue that, but I think there are a lot of people who understand where I come from when I say that. I've been playing at a high level for a long time.
"Even the last two years when I got hurt, if you look at the résumé before I got hurt, I was playing at a high level. At some point, I'm going to get through 16 games and I'm going to be accountable. My primary focus is to keep my body in shape and keep going."
Vick added four pounds in the offseason (all muscle, he said), hoping to improve his durability. Only once has he played a full season, and that came in 2006, his final season with the Atlanta Falcons.
His career -- his life -- started to unravel in the spring of 2007, during an investigation into his involvement in a dogfighting ring in his home state of Virginia. That led to 23 months in a federal prison, costing him a full two seasons and permanently tarnishing his reputation.
Vick's felonious past was dredged up again in March, when the Jets signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract. The blowback wasn't nearly as severe as it was when he signed with the Eagles in 2009, but it prompted a group in Cortland, New York -- home of the Jets' training camp -- to start a petition aiming to ban him from camp. More than 20,000 signed the online petition.
Vick said he had no reaction when he heard about it.
"Why? Why would I? My life has nothing to do with their life and their beliefs," he said. "I mean, what's done is done. Look at all the good. My message to them is, look at the good I've done, all the thousands of lives that I've saved, the people I've saved. That's most important. That's what the focus should be on, the lives that are being affected."
He was alluding to his charitable foundation, which helps at-risk youth. Just last weekend, Vick held a youth camp and charity softball game in his hometown, Newport News, Virginia.
"I think 90 percent of the world has [forgiven me]," he said. "I walk around every day and I have no complaints from nobody -- ever."
Well, there was a recent episode at a Manhattan nightspot, in which Vick was approached by a heckler. The person was immediately removed by security, the entire scene caught on a video that found its way to TMZ.com. Vick called it a misunderstanding.
"All he was trying to do was show me a picture of his dog, and I thought he was trying to bring up some past history," Vick said. "So I was out of context in that situation. I was like, 'Look, man ...' He just wanted me to look at his dog on the phone. That was my fault. Other than that, it's never happened."
A public confrontation regarding dogs, he meant.
"It doesn't bother me," Vick said. "I think we're six or seven years removed from that, and so much has transpired since then in my life. It's something I try not to even think about. I just try to continue to be an advocate against animal cruelty."
Vick wants the focus to be on football. He's naïve if he thinks fans will forget about his sordid past, but he certainly can change some opinions by succeeding on the field. The Jets' fan base is starved (45 years since Super Bowl III), and it's waiting for someone -- anyone -- to deliver another championship.
He hopes the fans can embrace him.
"That's what it's all about, it's all about football," Vick said. "It's all about helping these guys accomplish something that I know they can accomplish, and I think we should let bygones be bygones. Never forget about it, but try to improve amongst it and keep going."
The Jets are happy with Vick, especially his former coordinator from the Eagles, Marty Mornhinweg, who said his old pupil is "still a dynamic player." Vick is well-respected in the locker room, especially among the younger players, many of whom grew up idolizing him.
"He's been through life," Smith said. "He's been a guy who's bounced back. One thing that I noticed off the bat from talking to him awhile back is that he's extremely humble. He's a guy that's giving. He has a ton of knowledge and he's trying to give that knowledge to young guys like myself, which is why we all gravitate to him. We all look up to him."
Vick has been through life, all right. He's made a lot of mistakes -- bad ones -- and if he could somehow turn back the clock and give advice to a young Michael Vick, he'd tell him to change his habits and pick his friends carefully.
"I've always prided myself on being a mentally strong individual," he said. "I can almost adapt to any situation. There's nothing in my life that I haven't seen."
Last season, a hamstring pulled late in the offseason kept Ivory, then a new arrival with the Jets, from participating for the first week in training camp. Ivory played in 15 games for the Jets last season, with 182 carries for 833 yards and three touchdowns.
Last season, the Jets were down a few running backs as Mike Goodson failed to report and Ivory dealt with his hamstring. At one point, Ryan was concerned that they were running Powell into the ground, but there weren’t a lot of other backs to turn to.
Chris Johnson, who had knee surgery, said he expects to be ready for training camp, but it’s unlikely he’ll get a full slate of reps after his injury.
Offense rebounds: Ryan wasn’t happy after the first day of the minicamp, when errors on offense led to 7 sets of 10 push-ups for all of the staff on the field. There weren’t as many pushups on Wednesday, but Woody Johnson was on the sideline for a flag and the billionaire owner dropped to the grass and did a set of 10.
Johnson had good form, but should probably keep his day job. It’s more lucrative anyway.
High points: Quarterback Geno Smith connected with receiver David Nelson twice on both sides of the end zone. The two seem to be developing their chemistry. Greg Salas also looked good, making several catches including a high ball over the defense that would likely have been a touchdown in a game.
- Mike Vick was intercepted by Jaiquawn Jarrett late in practice, although it didn’t look like there was a receiver in the vicinity.
“He had the interception,” quarterbacks coach David Lee said. “Other than that, shoot, he played lights out. He threw about five touchdown passes.”
- Rookie tight end Jace Amaro also rebounded from a tough practice two weeks ago. He caught a nice pass from Vick in traffic.
“I’ve been please with him,” Ryan said. “...The thing I’m impressed with [is] he’ll block in space, and that’s one of the hardest things to do, to get a big guy to be able to handle that, so that would lead me to think he can be a decent inline blocker as well.”
Ryan noted the turnaround and said the bad practice was a good chance to show a rookie the difference between college and the pros.
“Every time a rook does something like that, gives you an opportunity to get on him, I think you should take it,” Ryan said.
- Rookie linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali has been getting quite a few reps with the second team as well. A few other Jets noted that he’s been developing.
- The Jets' final practice of minicamp will be tomorrow morning.
"Look, here's my job: It's my responsibility -- my duty, really ... I've got to continue to progress the young quarterback that's got 16 games under his belt -- that has to happen," Mornhinweg said. "And then, at the same time, we just have to get Michael Vick playing at the high level that he played at in the past, within this system. So he needs some reps."
Therein lies the challenge. In the old days, when there were two-a-days, this wouldn't have been a problem. Now, in the current NFL, reps are at a premium in training camp. In case you're wondering, Smith and Mark Sanchez worked on a 50-50 split last summer, when it was a true open competition.
General manager John Idzik, addressing reporters for the first time since the draft, spoke in generalities regarding the quarterback situation. He said, "It's competitive." Asked about Vick's recent claims that it's not an open competition, Idzik said, "It may be read different ways, but we're all on the same page."
Meanwhile, the Jets are tickled by Smith's progress.
"We're still going to have ups and downs," Mornhinweg said, "but I suspect Geno will play at a high level more consistently."
Quarterbacks coach David Lee said Smith is stronger and faster than a year ago. During the winter, Lee said he received texts from Smith, photos of him running up and down hills in Florida with a parachute attached to his back. (Wait, there are hills in Florida?) Lee said Smith is making quicker decisions with the ball, adding, "The ball is coming out of his hands so much faster than it has been in the past."
Last week, the New York Jets defensive tackle apparently ventured into a no-fly zone, commenting on teammate Muhammad Wilkerson's contract situation. He lobbied for his linemate, telling the New York Post, "Hopefully, they do the right thing and pay the man." Well, that didn't sit well at One Jets Drive.
"Someone asked me a question, and I gave them an opinion," Richardson said Monday on the NFL Network's "NFL AM" show. "He’s been turning questions down. [John Idzik has] been turning them down, too. So I’m about to start doing the same thing. I didn’t know at the time, but it’s going to get handled."
It's not clear if the directive came from Idzik, Wilkerson or someone else, but Richardson evidently intends to stay mum on contract talks that don't involve him. He touched on a few other topics during the interview, such as:
Geno Smith's development in Year 2: "He just picked it up. He’s a lot more intense. He’s got a little more control over the offense now. The playbook’s opened up a lot for him. He’s been putting them on the money. He’s made a few bad throws here and there, but there’s competition so it’s going to happen."
Michael Vick's presence in the locker room: "[He's] a tremendous help to the team, especially to Geno because he’s real comfortable with the playbook. He’s real laid back [and] a good guy. I love him. I love him being here. I wanted to take a picture when he first got here. It’s Mike Vick. That’s how I looked at it at first. Growing up, that was somebody you watched and somebody you wanted to be like. I’m glad he’s here."
Rookie safety Calvin Pryor and whether he has a chance to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: "He does. He’s learning the playbook real well, probably faster than when I learned it. [He's] making his adjustments and reads real quick, not making too many mistakes. He’s being a real pro right now."
“I expect big things from us,” Smith said, citing acquisitions like running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker in addition to returning roster-mates. “And we all expect the same thing because we’re still growing we’re still competing with one another. But right now I can see us gelling really like a team that’s going places in the future.”
With camp starting Tuesday, Smith was at the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School leading about 300 kids through drills in his first football camp, the Geno Smith Football ProCamp. Proceeds from a fundraiser are earmarked for Verizon’s HopeLine, to combat domestic violence.
“It s a Saturday we’ve got off and I could probably be doing a million things,” Smith said and smiled, “but it’s not about any of that. We’ve got a minicamp coming up and that’s all good. I’m very focused on that but today it’s about these kids and having fun with them.”
Smith -- or coach Smith to the kids -- said there was no comparing this year to last in terms of where he is in his development.
“There’s no comparison. Last year I was a rookie, I was learning -- I’m still learning but I was learning the offense. I know the offense now it’s about perfecting. There’s really no comparison it’s complete night and day.”
As WR David Nelson said earlier in the week, Smith had a tough time getting to know his wide receivers last year -- and Smith acknowledged as much.
“I tried last year,” Smith said, “but I was just so engulfed in trying to learn the play book and get my steps down and trying to do the little things that it was kind of hard to develop that exact chemistry that we want now. And I can see it this year.”
Smith said he wasn’t concerned with the addition of veteran quarterback Michael Vick, who has a fan base from years in Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as vocal detractors. Smith maintains the addition has been helpful.
“It’s not going to phase me no matter who’s brought in,” Smith said.
The two knew each other before the Jets acquired Vick during the offseason.
“We’ve always had positive conversations,” Smith said. “He’s a very positive guy, a 10-plus year veteran in this league. He’s a guy I’ve always looked to for advice. He’s given me that good honest competition. We’re competition with one another we’re trying to make each other better we’re trying to make our team better. And overall it’s been really fun to be with a guy that’s as humble as Mike.”
Smith was also asked, in the wake of comments from Calvin Pryor and Rex Ryan about the rivalry between the Jets and their AFC East rival, if he too hates the Patriots.
“I definitely feel however my head coach feels,” Smith said.
“I’ve always believed there’s no friends in football,” Smith said. “When you’re on the field, whoever that opposing team is, if there’s not wearing the same logo there’s some form of, I wouldn’t say hatred that’s a hard word to use, but you don’t like that team for obvious reasons.”
2. Is Eric Decker worth the money? The Jets, no longer big spenders in free agency, made an exception for Decker, giving him a five-year, $36 million contract. For that kind of loot, they expect him to be more than a nice No. 2 wide receiver. This could be culture shock for Decker, who goes from Peyton Manning to Smith/Vick. Then again, he caught passes from Tim Tebow in 2011, so he should be prepared for anything.
4. Is Calvin Pryor as good as Rex Ryan thinks? Ryan always gushes about his rookies, but he's positively smitten with his first-round pick. He already has compared Pryor to one of the most notorious safeties in history, the hard-hitting Jack Tatum. It will be interesting to see how Ryan juggles Pryor, Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen in the safety rotation -- if there is a rotation. We're talking about three players with similar skill sets -- i.e. strong safety-types.
5. Is it Milliner time? Taking Smith out of the equation, the most improved player on the team has to be cornerback Dee Milliner. If not, the defense will have problems because it's counting on him as the No. 1 cornerback. Milliner has to be the rock in the post-Cromartie/post-Revis era. Last year's top pick, who missed the 2013 off-season because of a shoulder injury, saved a poor rookie year with a strong finish. Now he needs to build on that. Just being on the field, as opposed to rehabbing an injury, will help immensely.
His bosses won't be as patient as last year, when the quarterback's flubs were chalked up to youth and system unfamiliarity. The "Geno doesn't have enough weapons" alibi, though he never used it as a crutch, no longer applies.
They systematically made one significant acquisition at each of the skill positions, and now it's on Smith to galvanize the talent and give the Jets an offense that doesn't celebrate punts as moral victories.
The Jets saw enough promise in Smith, mainly over the final four games, to convince them it's worth another go-round with him at quarterback. Instead of kicking him to the curb, which some impatient teams might have done, they propped him up and hyped him up.
While improving the talent around him, they created the Geno narrative, an organizational stance in which everyone from owner Woody Johnson to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg made sure to praise Smith in public. How many times has Rex Ryan told the world that Smith will be "hard to beat out"?
On Thursday, new Jets QBMichael Vick all but conceded the starting job to Smith; Vick said he doesn't see it as an open competition. He's right; it's not. The Jets signed Vick to serve as a backup/mentor/insurance policy. It was a wise move, giving them a viable alternative, but let's be real: It's Smith's show. They rebuilt this offense for him, and now he has to deliver. Geno will be Gone-o if he fails.
"A lot of pressure will be on Geno, just because he's the starting quarterback," wide receiver David Nelson said at the team's first offseason media availability. "He's the guy. He's the guy with the ball. He's the leader of our offense."
To be fair, Nelson acknowledged that Smith can't do it alone, that he'll need help from those around him. That's true, but the quality of help is better than last year, when the receiving corps -- marginal when healthy -- was so beat up that street free agents were inserted into key roles.
Smith never used it as an excuse. He just kept plugging along, throwing his interceptions -- until the proverbial light finally came on late in the season. The kid hung tough, withstanding an acute case of growing pains. The hard times should help him in the future, which is now.
"Having 16 games under my belt will really pay off," he said.
Smith was asked a few questions about the new additions and the potential improvement on offense, and he turned them away like Henrik Lundqvist handling a slap shot. The young quarterback was careful not to get excited, because he knows excitement will fuel expectations, which means more pressure on him.
Too late. No matter what he says or doesn't say, Smith is expected to be a better player in Year 2. If he can somehow flip his touchdown-interception ratio (12-21), the Jets will be a playoff team.
Offseason practices don't begin until next week, but Smith already has demonstrated a greater command of the huddle in modified workouts, according to teammates. A year ago, the Jets' X's and O's were foreign to him because he had little background in a pro-style offense.
"There's a different presence about him, a different aura," Nelson said. "He's being a lot more intuitive and a lot more authoritative. From a quarterback, that's what you want."
Except for Amaro, Smith will be the youngest skill player in the huddle. This is a veteran group with a chance to go from a bad offense (25th in yards) to middle of the road -- if everything breaks right.
If Decker, Peyton Manning's No. 3 option in Denver, can make the transition to the role of No. 1 receiver.
If Amaro can be a poor man's Rob Gronkowski.
"It looks good on paper, doesn't it?" Nelson said. "Too bad football games aren't played on paper. Now we have to fit the pieces together. We have tons of talent and tons of game-changing ability. If we're not maximizing those players, we're doing a disservice to this football team."
Mornhinweg knows what he's doing. The onus is on Smith to justify the organization's faith in him. If not, he won't last long in the job. With Vick, the Jets have a legitimate Plan B, so they don't have to ride a full year on the Geno coaster.
"Going into Year 2," Smith said, "I'm not going to put pressure on myself."
He won't have to. Plenty of others will do it for him.
“[The draft is] very irrelevant at this point,” Smith said. “I’m focused on so many other things that I don’t even want to go back to that time.”
Smith was also at Citi Field to address a group of 150 middle school students in a program involving the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Citi Kids. He even took questions. The first one: “Can I tackle you?”
Smith had advice on money -- “I still have a piggy bank” -- and who he thinks will be the NBA champion: “The Miami Heat!” But Smith said there wasn’t any advice that could have eased the pressure of the NFL Draft experience for him a year ago.
Smith, who had just completed his senior season at West Virginia, was projected to go high in the first round. Some speculated he could even be the top pick. Instead, Smith sat in the green room at Radio City and watched as player after player hugged NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The first round ended and he was still there, without another suit for Day 2. He debated not returning, but ultimately did. The Jets finally selected him with the 39th overall pick.
“I don’t think advice will help,” Smith said. “You just got to deal with it. It really comes down to who you are as a person and how you deal with adversity and how you deal with things. If anyone wants my advice I’m always happy to give it, but everyone deals with situations differently; you’ve just got to be yourself.”
The pressure didn’t end when he was picked, and in March the Jets brought in former Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick. After saying he would be competing for the starting spot, this week Vick changed his tone and said Smith was the starter.
“One thing I can tell you is Mike and I have a really good relationship, always have,” Smith said. “I’ve known him for a while now. I think he’s a really good guy. I think he still has a lot left in the tank, man, 34 years old -- I can only hope to be as good-looking as he is. He’s still got it.”
The Jets' group of quarterbacks, which includes Matt Simms, has been bonding in the early weeks of the offseason training program.
“We’ve spent plenty of time, we’ve got meetings, we hang out,” Smith said. “Me and Matt have always had a great relationship, and Mike just fits right in with us. He’s a veteran, but he’s a hard worker, and he’s going to do the right thing at all times.”
Asked if he had a mock draft worked up for the remaining rounds, Smith laughed.
“I don’t have a mock draft unfortunately. I haven’t done enough research yet,” Smith said. “But I know we’re going to get the right guy.”
Asked about the decision to go with safety Calvin Pryor in the first round, Smith said it was the right call and noted that there were 11 more picks, so the offense hasn’t been slighted.
“I just can’t wait for camp to get out of the field with all the guys and just to see the level of competition at all the positions,” Smith said, “because you get the feeling around the building something special’s about to happen. Guys are just working their butts off, everyone is focused.”
Garoppolo, speaking at a pre-draft event in Lower Manhattan, said Lee told him his release reminds of a certain Dallas Cowboys quarterback -- Tony Romo, another Eastern Illinois product whom Lee coached in Dallas. Garoppolo said he enjoyed his meeting time with the Jets.
"I thought the coaches in general were very personable, very blue-collar, getting-down-to-work type of guys," he said. "I like that about them. It fits my personality."
Frankly, I think the Jets are simply performing due diligence with Garoppolo and the other top quarterbacks. It would be an upset if they draft one before the fourth round, although they might have to hit the pause button if Blake Bortles somehow falls to 18. Garoppolo believes their interest is legitimate.
"There's a method to their madness," he said. "They're one of those teams that brought me in for a reason. Whatever the Jets' reason may be ... maybe they're hoping I fall. Hopefully, I don't, but they have a reason for what they did."
Garoppolo's most vivid takeaway from his visit to the Jets' facility is a bit unusual -- the 200-year-old oak tree that stands between two practice fields.
"I know it's kind of a random thought, but I was curious about it," he said. "Coach (Rex) Ryan told me the owner's mother wanted to keep it there."