Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New York Jets [Print without images]

Thursday, May 22, 2014
Geno will be Gone-o if he fails to deliver

By Rich Cimini
ESPN.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Geno Smith's rookie honeymoon is over, and now it's time to test his mettle in the big, bad world of pressure and expectations, NFL-style. Last season's scrutiny was nothing compared to what he will face in the coming months with the New York Jets.

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.

Geno Smith
Over the final four games of 2013, Geno Smith completed 59 percent of his passes and threw four TDs and just two INTs.
As promised, the Jets performed an extreme makeover on their offense, which badly needed a face-lift. They signed Eric Decker, arguably the top receiver in free agency. They picked up Chris Johnson, one of the NFL's most productive runners over the past six seasons. They drafted Jace Amaro, the most prolific tight end in college football last season.

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.

Eric Decker
The Jets upgraded the supporting cast around Smith, including signing former Broncos WR Eric Decker in free agency.
If Johnson can recapture some of his CJ2K form.

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.