By Kristian Dyer
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While he’s off to a good start, there’s still plenty of work for Geno Smith to do in the weeks and months ahead.
The initial returns are good. But it’s too early to claim there’s a quarterback controversy in Jets-land — and there shouldn’t be one this season involving the rookie.
This past weekend’s rookie mini camp showed some of the positives from Smith and glimpses of the skill set that made him a second-round pick in last month’s NFL Draft. He has an effortless release and throws a tight spiral with good velocity, and he surprised with better-than-expected mobility. He looked comfortable enough under center, especially coming from West Virginia’s “Air Raid” offense, where he operated primarily out of the shotgun. Smith broke from the huddle well and played with confidence.
It all looked really good.
Then again, he played in a practice setting, without pads and where hitting was not allowed, against a mix of draft picks, undrafted free agents and tryout players. The NFL’s elite this was not.
It was a good first step for Smith, but it was only a step. Let’s not spin this into something else.
Smith is still just a handful of months from from playing against teenagers and athletes barely old enough to buy a drink. His last time on the field in a competitive game was an underwhelming performance in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium this past December, when he struggled with the snowy conditions and the Syracuse pass rush. To anoint him the starting quarterback at this juncture would be a bad mistake.
The Jets went down this road in 2009 when first-round pick Mark Sanchez was handed the starting job during the preseason, a decision that ultimately hurt his long-term development. A veteran-laden team carried the Jets to the playoffs his first two years in the league and Sanchez was asked to limit his mistakes and manage games. He lost out on valuable developmental time that could have helped his game in the long-run.
The Jets can’t make the same mistake with Smith.
A season with a clipboard in his hand, watching the things Sanchez or David Garrard do right and wrong, would be far more appropriate for Smith at this juncture in his career.
What was learned about Smith this past weekend is that he has all the tools in place to be a good NFL quarterback at some point. What hasn’t been learned is if he can be a star right now. Jets fans are ready to anoint him, to move beyond the Sanchez era. Caution would be the wiser virtue at this stage.
Leading up to the draft, a Pro Football Weekly report cited some supposed attributes of Smith, including that he was “not a student of the game” and “(n)ot committed or focused.” Then after the draft, a story came out that Smith interviewed badly with several teams, texting and tweeting during his pre-draft meetings.
His new head coach, Rex Ryan, said this past weekend he didn’t see any “diva” tendencies from Smith. But where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. The Jets need to make sure that Smith is emotionally and mentally ready to lead beyond just a rookie mini camp. To rush him would be to ignore his long-term development.
New Jets general manager John Idzik is no fool. He’ll make the right decision. It should be one that says Smith starts the season on the sidelines — though that may not be popular with many Jets fans.
To say that Smith should be ostracized for the reports of immaturity would be foolish since this is a 22-year-old young man who is still growing, developing and maturing. He needs polishing. He needs emotional work as much as his technique needs refinement, and he won’t get that if he starts immediately.
The best way for him to mature is to take the time to work on his game, work on himself, not worry about the playbook install for each week and the responsibilities of being a starter. Take him along slowly, let him develop and mature from the quarterback who made plays in rookie mini camp into one who can make plays on Sunday afternoons.
Even if every single report about his maturity is false, give Smith the time to develop.
Don’t rush him, no matter how strong the temptation might be.
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