Geno Smith throws at minicamp

Updated: May 13, 2013, 12:40 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On Day 1, New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith played like a rookie, experiencing normal hiccups Friday in his first NFL minicamp practice. He graded himself with an overly harsh F.

Afterward, he behaved like a veteran, calmly brushing aside a barrage of questions about the recent torrent of criticism.

"I don't resent any of it, I don't pay attention to any of it," Smith said after his highly anticipated debut. "I've just been my normal old self. Nothing has changed. I'm not feeling any way toward any of it. I couldn't care less about it."

Few rookies have been subjected to the amount of scrutiny he has faced since his infamous draft-day slide. Scouts and personnel types, quoted anonymously in media reports, painted Smith as a diva -- a perception he fueled by firing his agents.

The Smith bashing, combined with the Jets' uncertain quarterback situation, turned a routine minicamp into an event. For a change, it wasn't because of Tim Tebow. About 50 media members watched the two-hour practice, with a dozen news photographers and TV cameras focused on Smith the entire time.

"I like the way Geno threw the ball," coach Rex Ryan said. "He looked pretty good to me. He can really spin it, but that's no surprise to me."

Few have questioned his arm talent. The concern with Smith, who dropped to the second round, is whether he can handle the pressure of playing in New York and a volatile quarterback competition.

The Jets are billing it as a five-way battle, but it's really a three-man race -- Smith versus embattled incumbent Mark Sanchez versus veteran journeyman David Garrard.

Smith shed some insight into the team's thinking, saying he was told that Sanchez will get "the majority of the reps" in training camp.

Sanchez said last week he'd try to help Smith as much as possible, but he also made it clear he expects a "fierce competition" and that he's not looking to make friends.

"I know Mark is a competitor, I understand he wants to win the job," Smith said. "We all do."

Smith didn't make any bold declarations, although he made it quite apparent he was pleased with his first-day performance. Asked to grade himself, he opted for an F. But that was an attempt at humility, telling people he still has a lot to improve upon.

"That's so far ahead of me," Smith said of a potential starting job. "I'm working on being here right now. My goal is to prove myself to my teammates and my coaches."

Smith spent time with his fellow rookies Thursday night at the team hotel, preparing for the first practice. The former West Virginia star and the offensive linemen gathered in one room for 90 minutes to discuss his cadence and certain plays. He didn't organize the session, but he was a willing participant.

"He's the quarterback, so he's a natural leader," tackle Oday Aboushi said. "He did a nice job, taking control."

Smith's reputation took a hit with reports that he was aloof during pre-draft interviews with certain teams, texting friends on his cell phone -- a claim he has denied.

Ryan admitted he spent only about an hour with Smith before the draft. The coach said he didn't detect any concerns about his attitude.

"Maybe I don't know what diva behavior looks like," Ryan said, "but he didn't exhibit it here."

Smith said the main objective is to learn offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast system, a dramatic departure from West Virginia's "Air Raid" attack. That means learning how to play under center. In college, he was used almost exclusively in shotgun.

On Friday, Smith took most of the snaps under center. There were no glaring blunders, but he acknowledged that he still has to sharpen his footwork.

To learn the West Coast style, Smith already is watching tapes of Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre. If he grasps the offense quickly, he'll have a chance to win the starting job.

"I don't think it was too foreign to me," he said. "I studied my butt off."

In his first practice, Smith threw a tight spiral with good velocity. But he held the ball too long at times, receiving an occasional earful from Mornhinweg.

On the first play of team drills, Smith rolled right and made a pronounced double clutch when his first read was covered. He found his second option, but he lost his rhythm and sailed the pass high and out of bounds.

"That doesn't work in this league," Ryan said of Smith's indecision.

Smith displayed better poise afterward, handling the media crush. The past two weeks, he said, has been "more eventful for the media than me."

Smith, who has not hired a new agent, was uncomfortable discussing that subject, saying he wants to focus on football, but he did not deny a report that he's considering Jay-Z's new Roc Nation agency.

As for his new number -- No. 7 -- Smith offered no particular insight as to why he picked it. He wore No. 12 in college, but as he dutifully noted, "No. 12 is retired."

That belongs to Joe Namath, whom he met at Day 1 of the draft -- a night he'd rather forget.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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