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June 5, 2014

Smith Settled In, Ready to Win with Jets

Coming from off of two full college seasons in the air raid offense, former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was inconsistent during his first months as starter for the New York Jets.

In week five of the 2013 season, Smith threw three touchdowns on the road in a Monday Night win over Atlanta, only to follow the stellar performance, with a subpar, two-interception game the next week against Pittsburgh.

"I was able to pick things up last year and understand enough to sustain in games," said Smith. "But, obviously there were times where I wasn't where I wanted it to be."

It took the former Mountaineer gunslinger more than three-fourths of his rookie season to finally feel comfortable in the Jets' west coast offense.

Over the final four weeks of the season, against Oakland, Carolina, Cleveland and Miami, he combined for seven total touchdowns compared to just two interceptions while the Jets won three of those games.

More importantly he proved he had the skills to be the quarterback of the future in New York.

"Everyone makes mistakes on the field but he was strong enough to overcome the adversity that comes along with the game," said Jets Tight End Jeff Cumberland, who caught 26 passes for 398 yards and four touchdowns from Smith in 2013. "Towards the end of the season he made better decisions throwing the ball and learned when to use his feet."

Smith wanted to ride the momentum of success, so he didn't take a week off between the end of the regular season and the start of his offseason regiment. He went right into lifting, throwing and watching game tape.

Now, in the second week of organized team activities, Smith is trying to build on the offseason. Even though Smith is slated as the starter, the Jets have brought in veteran Michael Vick to make it appear that the team has competition at the position.

"I'm pleased with the progress I've made, it's definitely night and day between this time last year and now," Smith said. "I'm being patient and taking every single rep as serious as possible, trying to perfect my craft every single day."

Part of perfecting his craft comes in film room. During his time at West Virginia, Smith was notorious for getting game film of himself or any idolized quarterback anyway he could whether it was in a meeting room on a projector screen at the Puskar Center or on the much smaller screen of his personal iPad.

Smith says he now watches more film than he did in college, because he doesn't have to stop watching it to go to class. His love for studying the game puts him in good graces with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

"Marty (Morhinweg) and I have deep conversations about games that were played in the '80's, which was before I was even born. That's one of the reasons why he was attracted to me in pre-draft," Smith said. "I can talk to him about plays that happened when (Joe) Montana and (Steve) Young were playing, the Bill Walsh days when this system was originally built. We've also had really good conversations about games he had with Donavan (McNabb) and some of the things they did."

Mornhinweg and Smith have a relationship similar to what the former West Virginia signal caller had with his former position coach, Jake Spavital while he was in school at WVU.

Even though Spavital moved onto Texas A&M to become an offensive coordinator, he remains as important to Smith's development as Morhinweg is.

"Jake (Spavital) and I talk pretty much every other day. When I was in college, he was my coach, but he was also one of my best friends there. We've kept our relationship strong," Smith added.

Under Spavital and WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen, Smith was asked to do some of the things as a quarterback, that Mornhinweg and Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan require him to do now despite the west coast offense being so different from the air raid he thrived in during college.

"It's a different offense and different scheme," said Smith. "But, it's all about being precise with your reads, being accurate, having good ball placement, and being a playmaker when things breakdown."

Smith also says both staffs preach leadership from their quarterbacks, which is something he feels is the ultimate need to be successful at the position. By showing knowledge the offense and a work ethic in practice, it allows his teammates to trust him in a key situation.

"Geno (Smith) is a guy who plays with a lot of heart and a lot of passion," said three-time pro-bowler and Jets offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. "He is a guy that has some natural leadership qualities. It's really a privilege to go and play with him week in and week out."

Currently from a leadership standpoint, Smith playing the role of experienced quarterback is trying to help rookie quarterback and friend Tajh Boyd understand the offense. Going from Clemson's spread offense to the Jets' system is similar to what Smith had to do a year ago as a rookie.

"When I got drafted the first thing somebody texted me was a picture of me and Geno (Smith) together at the Elite 11," said Boyd. "When you have the history of the West Virginia recruitment, the Elite 11 and the Orange Bowl it's interesting. You come in as you're a rookie, trying to learn as much as you can, but it's all foreign."

Smith just tries to point out easier ways for Boyd to understand a complex system.

"He (Smith) understands it so well. It's weird that he's the older guy even though were really the same age, but I'm learning a lot from him," Boyd said.

A year ago, Smith couldn't explain the Jets offense to anyone. Now he is the guy his teammates seek out for help.

Newly acquired targets Eric Decker, Jace Amaro and Jalen Saunders are all trying to get on the same page with Smith. Amaro, starred at Texas Tech and Saunders played at Oklahoma. They go from the air raid to the spread just like Smith, so even though Smith can't teach them everything he can give them pointers about how to get open for him at the NFL level, which is tougher than getting free against Big 12 defenders.

Smith is willing to do anything to help his team win games. He is completely different from the guy the Jets drafted a year ago. With an understanding of what it takes at the NFL level, the business side of the game and more, he is ready for year two in the league.

"I just strive for perfection. I want to complete every ball, I try to make the right decision or right play every single time. If I continue to do that, good things will happen," Smith said. "It's about taking care of this football team and putting it in position to win games, because ultimately everything comes down to wins and losses."


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