December 20, 2013

Jets rookie quarterback yet to be flushed from pocket

Jets retain faith in Geno Smith, who is subbing for Mark Sanchez.

By Dennis Waszak Jr.
The Associated Press

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Marty Mornhinweg knows a few things about developing NFL quarterbacks.

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Geno Smith hasn’t always looked at ease this season, as seemed the case in last Sunday’s loss to Carolina, when the young quarterback was sacked twice by Captain Munnerlyn.

Photos by The Associated Press

After all, he’s been around Brett Favre, Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick, to name a few. And the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator sees promise in Geno Smith, despite the rookie’s struggles this season.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Mornhinweg said Thursday. “I’m even more certain now than I was earlier that he could be a really good one.”

That might seem to some a curious statement, considering the ups and downs Smith has had and the uncertainty as to whether he could be the Jets’ quarterback of the future. But to Mornhinweg, Smith has the skillset to improve in a big way.

“He’s got skill and ability,” Mornhinweg said. “He’s a bright young man. We’ve talked about this before, but he’s got instincts. So he’s got a lot of things, really good things, and they show. Now, from afar or if you’re not really in it, it’s probably hard to see the great progress.

“He’s certainly progressed,” Mornhinweg added.

The numbers don’t necessarily bear that out, especially with Smith’s 21 interceptions ranking him second only to the 25 thrown by the Giants’ Eli Manning for most in the league. His 62.9 rating is also lowest among starting quarterbacks, impacted largely by a brutal seven-game stretch in which he had just one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions.

Smith, who has 10 touchdown passes overall, has just two games in which he hasn’t been picked off at least once.

“He, as a quarterback, has taken some pretty good steps forward and then we’ve taken some steps back and then taken some steps forward,” Mornhinweg said. “I felt like we had to restart almost a few weeks back.”

That’s when Smith was benched in favor of backup Matt Simms, and some fans and media clamored to have Simms get a shot at the starting job. Instead, Mornhinweg and Coach Rex Ryan stuck with Smith, wanting to see the rookie try to climb out of the hole he was in.

He has, in fact, played better the last few weeks, throwing for 386 yards with two TDs and two INTs, while also rushing for 94 yards and a score on 11 carries.

“Everybody progresses at a different rate at really all positions, but particular the quarterback,” Mornhinweg said. “There’s a select few who come in seamlessly and are on, typically, fantastic football teams, these types of things. And there are others that, man alive, it might take a year or two.

“Shoot, there have been some really good quarterbacks where it’s taken longer than that.”

In other words, sometimes the team gets better as the quarterback gets better and progresses.

“And you’ve got something special,” Mornhinweg said. “So, that’s sort of my vision on that type of thing.”

The Jets will have to decide as to whether they’ll go into 2014 with Smith in mind as their starter for the present, or if they’ll look elsewhere. It’s likely New York will either pursue a proven veteran or look at drafting a quarterback in the first round to compete with Smith next summer.

“I’m not focused on next year,” Smith said. “I have a game coming up this Sunday and that’s more important than anything outside of what I’m focused on.”

Smith, a second-round pick, was thrust into the job after Mark Sanchez went down during the preseason with a season-ending shoulder injury. It appeared to many that Sanchez was ahead in the competition, but it all became moot when he was hurt.

So, Smith has had to learn on the job, and it has had predictably inconsistent results. Smith became the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to lead four winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. He also broke Sanchez’s record for yards passing by a rookie.

The miscues and constant criticisms – he locks on receivers too much, he can’t read defenses and so on – are the counterpoints the Jets will need to consider in the near future.

But Smith believes he is continuing to get better, and refuses to dwell on the mistakes he has made or what people’s opinions of him might be.

“That’s pretty much the goal every single day, to go out and try to improve in some way, shape or form,” he said. “I’ve been trying to do that every single game, every single day in practice. It’s been working for me, I’ve shown progress. That’s something that’s a good sign.

“But I have to keep climbing and not focus on where I am now, but where I want to be in the future,” he said.

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