NFL Nation: Geno Smith
Mundy, who suffered a stinger to his shoulder in the third quarter, provided some extended thoughts on the big play to ESPN's Kevin Seifert and others in the Bears' locker room:
We knew a screen play was a possibility because, like any team, they definitely have a screen selection. We didn't really expect it to come that early in the game, but when you have players like Chris Johnson and their other running backs, who are good catchers of the ball out of the backfield, you try to get them the ball in different ways.
You could tell they were setting up the screen [when Smith pumped in the other direction]. That's the design of those plays. We're playing a zone coverage, so my job is to play underneath coverage to the left, and that's where I stayed.
I don't think [Johnson] was expecting the ball. I'm not sure, but I just made my way over because I was seeing the play develop. Typically in those situations, when they see me or someone right there, they throw it into the ground. I don't know if [Smith] saw me, but he threw it.
I saw the football coming right to my face. You've got to make sure you catch it and look it in. I was in the right place, right time.
I saw Geno, and I knew he wasn't going to catch me. But honestly, I wasn't aware of who the running back was that was in the game. Anytime you have the ball on a defensive turnover, what they tell you is that speed is behind you. You've got to secure the ball. I know [Johnson] is fast.
He's definitely fast. But when the ball gets in your hands, I mean, you know. I wouldn't call what I have "scary speed," but it's like, the end zone is right there, so let me get there. I was like, please let met just run as fast as I can and make it happen. That was my first career touchdown, so that was really cool.
I had a 91-yarder in the first game last year against Dallas, all the way to 1-yard line [when playing for the New York Giants]. Who caught me? I think it was DeMarco Murray. It was kind of frustrating, because even then, when I got it to the 1, we still didn't score a touchdown. After three plays, we had to kick a field goal. So the next time I got the ball in that position, I said, "Let me score."
Turnovers are a mindset. We practice it. We work it hard. We drill it into every practice that we're going to get turnovers. Every meeting we have, we smack that football and say, "Take that ball." It's just a mindset.
It was a big play, no doubt. Anytime you come into a hostile environment, you try to do your best to quiet the crowd and get the crowd out of it. When you force turnovers and get defensive touchdowns, if you force turnovers on special teams, score touchdowns on special teams, that definitely helps.
It wasn't that complicated. I was just playing underneath coverage, and really it seemed like he just threw it right to me. So you just got to catch it and run, and that's what I did.
Sometimes the numbers speak for themselves. Most times, however, we need a deeper dive -- mixed with a bit of common sense -- to understand how an NFL quarterback performed in a given week.
The full answer can be elusive, but as in past years, we'll endeavor to get as close as possible in the weekly Quarterback Report. The vast trove of data produced by ESPN Stats & Information, much of which is used to calculate Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), will guide us. (Special thanks to analyst Jacob Nitzberg for his help in sifting through and translating the data for me.)
This season's edition will provide detailed analysis of five (or so) quarterbacks from Week 1 action. Feedback and suggestions are encouraged, either via the comments below or through my mailbag.
Quarterback: Jay Cutler
What you saw: Thirty-four completions in 49 attempts for 349 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions.
What you might have missed: All but one of Cutler's passes against the Buffalo Bills came from inside the pocket, a notable departure when you consider how good he's been when on the run in his career. Last season, his 84.7 QBR outside the pocket for the Chicago Bears ranked second in the NFL.
As it turned out, Cutler's one foray outside the pocket Sunday led to a crushing interception by defensive tackle Kyle Williams, a play that dropped the Bears' win probability from 64.3 to 43.9.
A hamstring injury limited deep receiver Alshon Jeffery to 36 snaps, and the impact on Cutler was clear. Of his 49 attempts, 33 traveled 10 yards or fewer downfield. He completed only 1 of 8 passes of at least 15 yards downfield, including none of five after halftime, and he threw his average pass 2.43 seconds after the snap. (Last season: 2.63 seconds.)
Finally, Cutler completed 41.7 percent of passes thrown to players other than Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte.
Final analysis: Cutler looked an awful lot like a West Coast system quarterback. Historically, he's been at his best when moving outside the pocket and creating chances for his downfield guys to break open.
What you saw: He was 29-for-56 for 249 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.
What you missed: A struggle against the Miami Dolphins' standard pass rush, especially in a four-sack, two-fumble second half.
For the game, when the Dolphins sent four or fewer pass-rushers, Brady's QBR was its lowest (18.4) since 2010. He completed only 50 percent of his passes (20 of 40) and took three of his four sacks in those situations. Overall, Brady was under pressure on 16 dropbacks, his second-most in a game for the New England Patriots since ESPN Stats & Information began tracking it in 2006. His performance when under pressure in the second half: 0-for-6 with four sacks.
Not surprisingly, Brady didn't have much time to get off an accurate deep throw. He missed on 16 of 18 passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, over- or underthrowing 61 percent (11 of 18) of them. For context, in 2013 Brady missed on 41 percent of his deep passes.
Brady's performance on third down was equally weak, with three completions in 11 attempts, including none in four attempts to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Overall, eight of Brady's 12 throws to Gronkowski fell incomplete.
Final analysis: The best quarterbacks are expected to excel regardless of pass rush, but the Patriots' pass protection didn't do Brady many favors. When you're under pressure more often than you have been in years, and it's typically via a standard rush, those around the quarterback deserve significant blame.
What you saw: He was 29-for-37 for 267 yards, 0 TDs, 0 interceptions
What you might have missed: One of the most conservative games of Griffin's career with the Washington Redskins. Documenting his approach leads to some staggering numbers.
Griffin's average pass against the Houston Texans traveled 5.89 yards in the air, the third-lowest total of his career. Of his 37 attempts, 25 traveled 5 yards or fewer downfield. About 60 percent of his yardage total (160 of 267) came after the catch, and while he completed all eight of his passes targeted at receiver DeSean Jackson, six of them traveled 5 yards or fewer downfield. Of Jackson's 62 yards, 43 were after the catch.
That 267-yard total is worth further inspection. Nearly three-quarters of it (193 of 267) came in the second half, which began with the Redskins having a win probability of 17 percent and never rose above 31.6 percent. In other words, it came when the Texans were more willing to allow yards in exchange for time off the clock.
Final analysis: Robert Griffin III the pocket passer makes one yearn for Robert Griffin III the wild runner. Checking down all game only works if your team has a lockdown defense. The Redskins don't. They need more explosive plays from their quarterback, one way or the other.
What you saw: He was 23-for-28 for 221 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
What you might have missed: A completion percentage aided by an excess of short passes, and a QBR (32.3) lowered by two significant turnovers.
More than half (12) of Smith's completions were caught either at or behind the line of scrimmage, including seven screen plays. Smith also completed 10 of 12 play-action attempts. His longest completion traveled 17 yards in the air. Meanwhile, his interception dropped the New York Jets' win probability by 11.5 points, and his fumble inside the Oakland Raiders' 5-yard line dropped it by 15.4 points.
He completed all five of his passes on third down, but only two were converted to first downs. He also took both of his sacks on third down.
One significant, positive development: Smith completed 8 of 9 passes against the Raiders' blitz after finishing 2013 as the NFL's second-lowest ranked quarterback against the blitz.
Final analysis: The Jets' use of Smith suggests he hasn't fully earned their trust. It worked at home against the Raiders, and in general is a good formula for a young quarterback in development, but it will require top-end play from the Jets' defense to support victories against teams with higher-scoring offenses.
What you saw: He was 22-for-33 for 266 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT
What you might have missed: A notable adjustment in the way Locker was used by the Tennessee Titans' new coaching staff.
Locker didn't attempt a single pass from outside the pocket, something that never happened in 2013 and in general has been a rarity during his injury-riddled career. He acquitted himself well when asked to be a pure pocket passer, completing 7 of 11 passes on third down, converting six into first downs. His only miss? A third-and-19 in the first quarter. Overall, he converted a career-high 18 passing first downs.
Fantasy players and traditional fans alike would be interested to note that of Locker's seven passes to receiver Kendall Wright, five traveled 5 or fewer yards downfield. Receiver Justin Hunter, meanwhile, was targeted on five passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield.
Final analysis: We know Locker has the ability to scramble, but we also know he has had a tendency to get hurt. New coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense is safer for him if he can excel within its parameters. So far, so good.
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
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."
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.
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."
Just for kicks, I asked Gruden what the Jets should do if, by chance, Johnny Manziel falls to them.
"If Johnny Manziel is there at 18, I'll give you my cell phone number and I'll take you out to a steak dinner," Gruden said.
Now there's a medium-rare opportunity.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, addressing reporters at the NFC coaches' breakfast, said the 33-year-old quarterback still has the physical skills to be a winning quarterback. Later, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell commended Vick for changing his life in the aftermath of the dog-fighting scandal.
"I still think he’s got a lot of football left in him,” said Kelly, who coached Vick last season. “He’s got tremendous arm skill. I don’t know too many guys in the league that have the arm that Mike does. There’s still days in practice in December when he rips a couple and you’re just like, ‘Whoa.’ He can throw the football. He still has the ability.”
Vick was Kelly's choice last season as the Eagles' Week 1 starter, but he got hurt and eventually lost his job to Nick Foles, who played brilliantly. That's the biggest question about Vick, his ability to stay healthy. He takes chances outside the pocket, trying to utilize his once-remarkable speed.
“He’s probably not as fast as when he first came into the league,” Kelly said. “But when he first came into the league, he was the fastest guy to ever play the position. A slower version of Michael is a lot faster than maybe every other quarterback in the league, with the exception of one or two."
Before signing Vick, who spent nearly two years in a federal prison for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson consulted with Goodell. The commissioner has developed a rapport over the years with Vick, whom he reinstated in 2009.
"I think Michael is a young man who made a tragic mistake," Goodell told a news conference at the conclusions of the meetings. "He paid a very heavy price for it, but I’ve seen him in everything he’s done exceed expectations. He has worked very hard to be a positive force in a lot of different areas, and that’s something I admire about him.
"When we went through the process of reviewing [his return to the NFL], whether he had demonstrated he would do things the right way and be a positive force, he has. I’m proud of the work that he’s done.”
Ryan said Vick would have a chance to be the Jets’ starter in Week 1, which led to questions about who would take the first snaps when the team’s on-field activities start this spring. Ryan deflected all of them, returning to a theme that competition is a good thing.
Smith threw for 3,046 yards as a rookie with 12 touchdown passes, but he was intercepted 21 times.
When Vick first got together with New York offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg with the Eagles, he had his best season with 21 touchdown passes and six interceptions in 2010. Ryan said Vick’s background with Mornhinweg and the system will help him in competing for the job.
It’s been awhile since Vick was that good, but Ryan believes Vick has plenty of football left.
“First off, you’re getting a guy who’s a proven winner,” Ryan said. “He is a dynamic player.”
It will be an interesting time around the Jets, as always.
"Any outstanding player, you’re going to have an interest in," Ryan said, responding to a question about Ware. "Whether that’s attainable or not might be a different story. You definitely entertain any option that can help your football team."
2. Cornerback spin: Ryan continued to blow sunshine on the current state of the cornerback position, insisting he's happy with Dee Milliner, Darrin Walls, Kyle Wilson, et al. But he acknowledged, "Would I prefer having shutdown corners and all that? I absolutely would, because it does give you more flexibility in what you do. But if that’s not the case, I'm not going to beat my head into the wall. Throughout my career, I’ve had some great corners, some not-so-good corners. In our system, we’re able to make adjusmtents."
3. The Darrelle dance: The coach sidestepped questions on whether he pushed to re-sign Revis. Translation: He did. Ryan said he doesn't think about Revis anymore. "He's the enemy now," Ryan said.
5. Safety dance: Ryan didn't rule out the possibility of re-signing Ed Reed, but it sounds like a fallback option for the Jets. Ryan said he's OK with Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. He also mentioned Rontez Miles, who spent last season on the practice squad, as a potential factor.
6. Quote of the day: Trying to pump up Geno Smith, Ryan insisted that his second-year quarterback faced tremendous adversity last season. "Yeah, he had that little drop-off, but quite honestly, Johnny Unitas would’ve had a drop-off," he said. "We had a lot of injuries. No excuses, but that’s reality."
A little drop-off? In one stretch, Smith went five straight games without a touchdown pass. That's the Grand Canyon.
1. Waiting on DeSean: If the Jets want wide receiver DeSean Jackson, they have the resources to be a major player. They have the need, the cap space (more than $30 million) and the right recruiter (Michael Vick). The question is, do they have the desire?
Frankly, I think it would be out of character for Idzik. Jackson is a problem child, the ultimate risk-reward gambit. The mere fact Chip Kelly is holding a fire sale for his best receiver should tell you something about how badly he wants to rid himself of Jackson. This is Santonio Holmes revisited. The talent makes the player oh-so-tempting, but is he worth the aggravation? Even if Jackson's market dries up and he accepts a team-friendly deal, he'd be complaining next offseason about wanting a new contract. He's a headache waiting to happen, but the Jets appear willing to stock up on aspirin.
2. The Marty factor: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg knows Jackson better than anyone in the Jets' building, having coached him in Philly, but I wonder about that relationship. In May, 2010, Jackson told the Sporting News, "Our offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, said some things, trying to question my toughness" -- a reference to a 2009 game in which he sat out with a head injury. "I was like, 'Coach, I just got a concussion. This (is) my brain. If it's something else -- my shoulder, whatever -- I'm going to play.'" Based on the quote, it doesn't sound like they're the best of buds.
By the way, Jackson suffered two concussions in 2009 and 2010, including a severe concussion that resulted in memory loss -- another factor the Jets should consider.
3. 3-21: So on the two-year anniversary of the Tim Tebow trade, Mark Sanchez gets cut, Greg McElroy announces his retirement and Vick joins the team. That has to be cosmos, right?
4. Polarizing player: Opinions on the Vick signing are sharply divided among fans and media, which isn't a surprise. I happen to think it's a good deal, but I spoke to one longtime front-office executive who believes Vick, 33, is washed up.
"The Jets already have a guy like him ," said the executive, referring to Geno Smith. "If you bring Vick in, you're not thinking. It makes no sense. He's a good kid. He's more mature, he's not a distraction and the players respect him, but he doesn't bring anything to the table anymore -- nothing. He can't win with his legs anymore, he has to win with his head. His arm is good enough, but unfortunately, the arm isn't connected to the head."
An AFC personnel scout said of the Vick-for-Sanchez move: "I don't know what to think, to be honest. You swap one out for the other. There's still no long-term solution."
5. Penalty pals, revisited: Based on their track records, the Willie Colon-Breno Giacomini tandem on the right side of the offensive line will produce a lot of penalty flags. Colon was penalized a team-high 12 times for 82 yards last season. Giacomini, playing for the Seattle Seahawks, was flagged six times for 39 yards -- in only nine games, mind you. (In addition, he had two holding calls in the postseason.) In 2011 and 2012, he combined for 21 penalties for 172 yards. Unless they change their ways, Colon and Giacomini will invite comparisons to the original Penalty Pals, Jeff Criswell and Dave Cadigan, circa 1993.
6. Keeping their own: Penalties notwithstanding, the Jets made a good move to re-sign Colon, who received a one-year, $2 million contract. Only $500,000 is guaranteed; he can also earn $1 million in base salary, plus another $500,000 in roster bonuses if he plays every game. They gave a similar deal to linebacker Calvin Pace, who can make $2.625 million in the first year of a two-year, $5 million contract.
All told, the Jets retained seven free agents for a combined total of only $5.255 million in guarantees -- Pace, Colon, Nick Folk, Jeff Cumberland, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls and Leger Douzable. That's what you call bargain shopping.
7. John the Rigid: The biggest criticism of Idzik, according to some agents and league insiders, is that he shows little or no flexibility in negotiations. He assigns a monetary value to a player and refuses to adjust, they say. That style may help in certain situations, but there are times when you have to examine the big picture and ask yourself, "Do we really want to lose this player over X amount of money?" Idzik's conservative approach probably cost him cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed with the New York Giants. So now they have a gaping hole at the position. Barring a trade, or a veteran unexpectedly shaking free, the Jets will have to rely on the draft.
8. Bad things come in threes: In a span of 12 days, Idzik jettisoned three of the cornerstone players from the last playoff team, cutting Sanchez, Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. That's a stunning player dump, considering they're all 30 or under. The downside is the amount of "dead" money on the cap. The three players are counting $12.78 million, nearly 10 percent of the entire salary cap.
9. Small-school sleeper: Remember this name -- Terrence Fede. The former Marist defensive end is trying to become the first player in his school's history to be drafted. The 6-foot-3, 276 pounder was a stud pass rusher as the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school, recording 30.5 career sacks. He has an impressive burst on the edge. He performed for scouts recently at the University of Buffalo pro day, clocking a 4.79 in the 40. All 32 teams were in attendance, including Jets scout Cole Hufnagel. Even if he's not drafted, Fede will be a priority free agent.
10. The Jets' new dogma: Everybody knows about Vick's sordid history with dog fighting, a crime that resulted in him spending nearly two years in a federal prison. Well, here's something interesting and ironic: One of his new receivers is a dog lover. Eric Decker has a foundation called "Decker's Dogs," which provides service dogs to returning military vets with disabilities. Decker and his wife, Jessica, raise money to help train rescued dogs. They believe rescued dogs have the same success rate as dogs bred for service.
On the two-year anniversary of the worst personnel move in franchise history -- the Tim Tebow trade -- the New York Jets made another high-profile quarterback acquisition: Michael Vick.
They apparently don't believe in bad omens for March 21.
This time, it was a sound football decision, not a publicity stunt. Unlike Tebow, Vick is a functional passer with the ability, albeit somewhat diminished, to help the team. Yes, it's a quarterback controversy waiting to happen -- Vick versus Geno Smith -- but it won't be a distraction as long as Vick continues to be the player and person he was last season for the Philadelphia Eagles.
And as long as the Jets, who mismanaged the Tebow situation at every turn, don't repeat the same mistakes they made in 2012.
Vick was a model teammate last season when he got hurt and lost his job to Nick Foles. Instead of moaning, Vick supported Foles in every way, winning the respect of cynics around the league.
The Jets are putting Vick in a tough spot because they expect him to compete with Smith for the starting job, but they want him to serve as a mentor to the second-year quarterback. It's a delicate balance, and it takes a selfless person to pull it off.
Other teams might have been hesitant to take the risk, but the Jets feel comfortable with Vick because of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, his former coordinator with the Eagles. "Inside knowledge," general manager John Idzik called it.
On Friday night, shortly after signing his one-year, $5 million contract, Vick said all the right things, vowing to support Smith and help the team win. If he maintains that attitude, especially if he's on the bench, it'll be a win for everybody. If he turns into a diva, it'll get messy and the old circus will return.
"I don't have one ounce of hate in my blood," said Vick, explaining he had too much respect for Foles and the Eagles to make a stink last season when he was kept on the bench.
Once upon a time, Vick was the most polarizing athlete in sports. There was the dogfighting scandal and the subsequent prison sentence, 21 months in a federal pen. He was bad news, but the Eagles took a chance after commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated him.
It's funny how times change. When Vick became a free agent in June 2009, the Jets wanted no part of him, quickly and decisively indicating they had absolutely zero interest. Five years later, they believe he's fit to help groom their potential quarterback of the future.
"I'm a Jet and I appreciate all the Jets fans that appreciate me and accept me for who I am and what I've become, not for what I've done," said Vick, who has rehabilitated his life, career and image. "I think right now my past is irrelevant. We're talking about football, not the things that transpired off the field."
In the Jets' perfect scenario, Vick wouldn't have to play. He'd be Smith's eyes and ears, teaching him and pushing him to become a better quarterback. He'd be a $5 million Yoda. But as we all know, plans rarely works perfectly, especially for the Jets.
If Vick doesn't win the job in training camp, he'll probably get a chance at some point, either by injury or ineffectiveness. If Vick becomes the Week 1 starter, let's be honest, he probably won't last the season, considering his durability issues. Chances are, the Jets will need both quarterbacks.
The Vick-Smith relationship will be vital. Vick said they have a "great friendship" even though it's only a year old. They got to know each other before last year's draft, Vick offering advice to the former West Virginia star.
Vick sounds as though he's already invested in Smith. It's the right attitude.
"[I want to] help him to become the quarterback that we all want him to become," he said.
The Jets will have to do their part, meaning they need to avoid the missteps from two years ago.
They can start by not having a mega news conference to introduce Vick. (Who can forget that Tebow extravaganza?) They shouldn't have clandestine practices to work on top-secret formations, inviting the media as a tease. They shouldn't let live TV into their training-camp practices.
And owner Woody Johnson might want to avoid saying, "You can never have enough Vick."
If the Jets manage this properly, and if Vick accepts his role, this could actually work, March 21 jinx be damned.
2. Ready, set, compete: Obviously, the brass wants Smith to succeed, building on his promising finish last season, but this will probably be presented as an open competition. It'll make for a compelling training-camp battle: the talented, but unpolished, Smith versus the cagey vet looking for one last shot at glory. It brings back memories of Vinny Testaverde's arrival in 1998. If Smith buckles under the pressure, it'll tell the organization he's not their guy. Their hope is that Vick's presence, on and off the field, will elevate Smith to a higher level. They believe Vick can mentor Smith; he wouldn't have received that from Sanchez.
3. The Marty Factor: This doesn't happen without Marty Mornhinweg, the offensive coordinator. Because of Mornhinweg, the Jets had "inside knowledge" of Vick, according to Idzik. They wouldn't have signed one of the most polarizing players in NFL history if they didn't have someone on staff who knows Vick and what makes him tick. Mornhinweg and Vick spent four years together in Philadelphia from 2009 to 2012. His familiarity with Mornhinweg's system is another plus. It should make for a seamless transition, another reason for Smith to worry about his job. You can't accuse the Jets of babying Smith, a la Sanchez.
4. Potential risks: Vick's checkered past -- nearly two years in jail for his involvement in a dogfighting ring -- will surely be dredged up at the outset, perhaps even causing animal-rights activists to protest, but it will die down as long as Vick continues to carry himself in a mature fashion. This won't be similar to the Tim Tebow circus. Football wise, yes, it could spark a quarterback controversy, but it's worth the risk, especially for coach Rex Ryan, who might not survive another playoff-less season. Bottom line: Vick upgrades the position.
5. Depth chart: It means that Matt Simms, the No. 2 quarterback, will be knocked down to third string. The Jets like his potential, but they could draft a quarterback in the later rounds to provide competition.
6. Is D-Jax next?: The Jets reportedly inquired about Vick's former teammate, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who is said to be on the trading block. A lot of people are connecting the dots, speculating this means they will pursue Jackson, but the Jets were interested in Vick before Jackson became available. Trading for Jackson, who has a huge contract and character issues, would be a serious curveball by Idzik.
No fewer than 10 teams have signed or re-signed veteran quarterbacks, leaving few options for Sanchez. The Jets don't have to make a decision until Monday, because he receives a $2 million roster bonus if he's still on the team after Monday.
Idzik is taking his sweet time, letting the market come to him. It stinks for Sanchez, who isn't permitted to speak to other teams, but it may work out for the Jets in terms of negotiating leverage with Vick -- and perhaps Sanchez, if it comes to that. The Jets could be the only team left offering a competitive quarterback situation.
We should point out that, in an interview Friday with SNY, Rex Ryan said, "Make no mistake about it, Geno Smith is going to be hard to beat out, no matter who we add." That was simply a verbal pat on the back for Smith, who might be wondering about his status with all the speculation about Vick. The truth is, it would be an open competition. Obviously, the organization wants Smith to succeed, but there's a reason why they haven't named him the starter.
At that the same time, Vick knows there's a short supply of quality quarterbacks on the market, so he can try to use that to his advantage. Meanwhile, the Jets are holding on to Sanchez to strengthen their perceived leverage, perhaps presenting him to the Vick camp as a fallback option. If they fail to sign Vick, their options would be Sanchez (if he takes a pay cut), Josh Freeman, Rex Grossman, Shaun Hill, Matt Flynn ... do we need to go on?
For the next 72 hours, it'll be a big poker game between the Jets, Vick and Sanchez.
1:00 PM ET Tampa Bay Cleveland 1:00 PM ET Arizona Dallas 1:00 PM ET Philadelphia Houston 1:00 PM ET New York Kansas City 1:00 PM ET Jacksonville Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET San Diego Miami 1:00 PM ET Washington Minnesota 4:05 PM ET St. Louis San Francisco 4:25 PM ET Denver New England 4:25 PM ET Oakland Seattle 8:30 PM ET Baltimore Pittsburgh