FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Geno Smith handles defenses the way he deals with the media. Blitzes or probing questions, the New York Jets’ rookie quarterback stands there unflustered and delivers.
Just cool, calm and confident.
“He’s playing well,” right guard Willie Colon said Wednesday. “He’s composed. I love everything about him. He comes out to practice every day and is a hard worker.
“You can tell ‘The Show’ is not too big for him.”
By the numbers, Smith has had an up-and-down first three games. The Jets are OK with that. He’s made big plays in each of the team’s wins in a surprising 2-1 start. He vows to cut down on his mistakes — six interceptions — and the Jets appear willing to live with them, especially with Mark Sanchez out until at least midseason with a shoulder injury.
After all, this is Smith’s team now, maybe for good.
“I’ve been making progress,” Smith said. “The good thing is it’s been steady. It’s been day by day.”
There were tons of questions when the Jets stunningly drafted Smith in the second round in April, with some fans and media concerned about his approach to the game, ability to lead and whether his skills during a record-setting career at West Virginia would translate to the NFL.
The change in how Smith looked in rookie camp in May to now is off-the-charts different. Sure, there are still issues with footwork, poorly placed balls and bad reads.
“You never want to be the weak link,” Smith said, “or the guy who’s holding the team back or the offense back.”
But his performance in a 27-20 victory over Buffalo last Sunday provided a bright glimpse into what the Jets might have.
“His communication and level of expertise is just getting better,” Colon said. “I think it’s important for us to get him in a rhythm, keep his confidence high and the sky’s the limit.”
Smith became the first Jets rookie to throw for 300 yards, going 16 of 29 for 331 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The biggest play was his go-ahead 69-yard toss to Santonio Holmes in the fourth quarter after the Bills tied the game.
The offense had one of the best showings in Jets history, marking the first time the franchise had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher (Bilal Powell) and two 100-yard receivers (Holmes and Stephen Hill).
“Yeah, we had a good game but we’ve got to move on from it,” Smith said. “We’ve got a long season and we’ve got a tough week coming up.”
The next test is the Tennessee Titans, who have been watching plenty of film of Smith the past few days. They’ve seen a quarterback who regularly hangs in the pocket, unfazed by the potential of taking a big hit.
Smith’s 65.0 quarterback rating is in the bottom half of the league, and the six interceptions are second in the NFL to the Giants’ Eli Manning, who has eight. Those numbers could have the Jets contemplating a quarterback change if Sanchez were still starting.
But because Smith is a rookie with a terrific arm, there’s a fascination to see how good he could become.
“He’s not going to force it,” Coach Rex Ryan said. “He won’t make the critical error.”