- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Jets coach Rex Ryan was candid Friday about rookie quarterback Geno Smith, whose struggles in recent games have been obvious.
Smith, who has 18 interceptions and four fumbles this season, has looked lost on the field and visibly has had trouble reading defenses lately. In a timing miscue, his call for the snap during practice led to a fumble when the ball bounced off Greg Salas in motion.
Ryan said growing pains were expected for a second-round pick not quite a year out of West Virginia.
"He never took a snap under center in college," Ryan said. "He was always in the gun. Their routes were timed up different, he would sit here, and if Geno wanted to step back, he would. If he wanted to slide, he would. There was not a whole lot of NFL-type rhythm to them, seven-step drop, five-step drop. It was all new. We knew that it was going to be a challenge. I think he's done a good job."
Smith has thrown eight touchdown passes and rushed for three, but only one of those has come in the past four games -- and that one was via the run. The Jets' passing game has been bad, with two midseason acquisitions, Salas and David Nelson, playing the largest roles. Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg noted the issues.
"I will tell you the last couple of weeks now, the precision in the pass game, there has been none," Mornhinweg said, "and that bothers me very much. And so, we're working diligently with the players that are practicing to try and recoup some of that precision, and that will be key down the stretch here."
After last week's 19-3 loss in Baltimore, Ryan wasn't willing to say that Smith would start this week against Miami, although ultimately that was the call. Backup Matt Simms has been used in two games when Smith's struggles overwhelmed him. Still, Ryan is reminded of what he first liked about Smith before the difficulty.
"We all saw what we saw in training camp; this guy's got an NFL arm," Ryan said. "There's no question, he's got NFL accuracy. The footwork and all that, I really tip my hat to [quarterbacks coach] David Lee. He's done a tremendous job, and Marty, they do a great job with him."
Smith has been getting support from those on the coaching staff, as well as veteran quarterback David Garrard and Simms. Mornhinweg expressed optimism that Smith would develop.
"The thing is, there is a lot of really good quarterbacks who have been through much worse than this," Mornhinweg said. "When you come out of it, you're typically quite stronger if you do it the right way."
The Jets' bottom line has been affected by second-year WR Stephen Hill, who seems to be struggling as much to catch the ball as Smith is to deliver it, as well as Santonio Holmes, who has been a shadow of himself this season with persistent foot and hamstring injuries.
It means Smith's struggles are magnified.
"I think right now he's at a spot. It might not look like it, [but] I think he's understanding the game," Ryan said. "He's understanding how the separation is a little different than it was in college, when you had Tavon Austin separated by 15 yards or something. It's a little different. But he's got the ability, I think he shows improvements. It might not look like it, but last week I thought he was tremendous in the pocket. He really was. Again, it never paid off on the stats sheet but I see it as a positive."
Mornhinweg also is able to see progress in back-to-back losses that looked like regression to many outside of the Jets' bubble.
"It sounds crazy but Geno has made some strides in the last couple of weeks," Mornhinweg said. "It's just very difficult to see from afar. I'll tell you that. He's clear-minded, there is no lack of confidence with him. Those are good things."
At some point, those things have to show up on the stat sheet, or the Jets will have to put together a Plan B.
Rex Ryan was candid Friday about rookie quarterback Geno Smith, whose struggles in recent games have been obvious.