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Friday, April 26, 2013
Geno Smith's first NFL comeback

By Jane McManus
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- He needed to sleep on it, but Geno Smith ultimately made the right call in the first big spot of his NFL career.

You do not have to be a licensed therapist to understand what Smith was experiencing in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. The West Virginia quarterback, projected by many to go early in the night, remained in the green room at Radio City Music Hall well into the night.

As the cameras swept by his seat with increasing frequency, there was no mistaking the tension. Smith stared a hole into his phone. The Twitterverse started to speculate: Was he playing another game of Words with Friends? The phone didn't ring, and Smith put his head in his hands.

Eventually, Smith got up and left, telling ESPN's Suzy Kolber that he wouldn't be returning for similar torment for Round 2 on Friday night. Draft 1, Smith 0.

Smith's decision to leave is completely understandable. The worst night of his young career played out like a bad deodorant commercial, and who would want another night of that?

Yet this is part of his job interview. A long, public, embarrassing job interview, but don't think that every one of the 32 teams who might be interested -- and their fans -- aren't looking to see how the quarterback handles the pressure of his first national fishbowl.

Geno Smith
After enduring a difficult evening in the green room, Geno Smith intially said he wouldn't come back for another round.

So this morning, when Smith changed his mind, or allowed his agents and advisers to show him some clarity after an emotional night, he made the right decision. Smith might need a second suit, but appearing at Radio City for Round 2 is important because it's part of the role he hopes to play in the future.

If Smith represented any other position, his choice to head for the door wouldn't be as noteworthy. A wide receiver would just be playing to the diva stereotype. Maybe the offensive tackle didn't own another nice suit. But the quarterback is the one who needs to stay positive when the team is down 12 points in the fourth quarter. He is the leader, the one pulling everyone else up when things look bleak.

The team that selects Smith will be hoping that he leads the franchise for the better part of a decade.

Geno Smith, random college kid, can get up and walk away without an issue. But Geno Smith, aspiring quarterback, needs to show up on Day 2. Smith's mechanical flaws may have kept him from being the top quarterback of the night, but displaying petulance would be a bigger red flag.

This is about appearances. Two years ago, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was fined by then-offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer every time the QB slumped his shoulders. Why? Because when opponents smell weakness in a quarterback, it makes them want to hit him harder. You could argue it was wasted effort in that case, but don't think Smith isn't already being measured by NFL sack specialists just as closely as by potential offensive coordinators.

Smith's return will show a little resilience even before he puts on his first NFL helmet.

Quarterbacks got little love in the first round of the NFL draft this year. Just one, Florida State's EJ Manuel, was taken in the first round. Manuel went to the Bills with the 16th overall pick.

Smith really shouldn't take it personally. He was the top-rated quarterback in the class by a lot of draft analysts, and that generally means a top-10 spot. It's a very unusual year for his position. The last time just one quarterback went in the first round was 2001.

Smith has the bad luck to be drafted in an era when the first and second rounds are on different nights, drawing out the agita, but no one wants to hear him complain right now, either out loud or by implication.

Most teams made up their minds about players long before draft night began. Maybe Smith's decision to return doesn't move a decimal point on his final score. But no one wants his introduction to the NFL to be in the role of quitter. It's going to stink, but Smith is right to get back in there.

The fishbowl may be excruciating when things don't go the way you envisioned, but enduring that tension ultimately is what the job requires.