FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Geno Smith’s relationship with his position coach got off to a rocky start.
The New York Jets rookie quarterback arrived late for a meeting a few months ago, and David Lee let him have it.
No coddling. No kid gloves. No tolerance.
“I went nuts on him and he had to learn,” Lee recalled. “You’re not late ever. For anything.”
Lesson learned, and a bond forged.
“I’m just dead-honest with him and pour out my heart and I want him to be the same way with me,” Lee said Monday. “And I think it’s why we’ve got a great relationship today because we’re both really honest with each other.”
Lee has been an instrumental part of Smith’s development from the day the Jets drafted the former West Virginia star in the second round in April. Smith has praised Lee along the way for helping him adapt to life as an NFL starting quarterback.
The road has been far from smooth, with a roller-coaster ride of nine games mixed with impressive moments and frustrating mistakes. Smith’s performance has mirrored the team’s overall season with a curious trend of alternating good games and bad games, wins and losses.
“He’s been hot and cold,” Lee said. “He’s been really hot and brought us back to win three or four games there in the fourth quarter. And then he’s been cold and he’s hurt us.”
While leading the Jets to a 5-4 record that’s good enough to currently hold a playoff spot, Smith has eight touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. He also became the first player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with four winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games.
He’s completed 158 of 272 passes for 1,997 yards and fumbled three times.
Smith has tantalizing talent, highlighted by a rocket arm and ability to make plays with his legs. But he’s been wildly inconsistent. In odd-numbered weeks, Smith has seven touchdowns and four interceptions; and one TD and nine INTs in even-numbered weeks.
“Every single area, every single thing needs to improve,” Smith said. “That’s never going to stop. I’m going to always try and find ways to get better and even if it’s one small thing, even if it’s something that may not be that effective in a game, something I need to improve on, so every single part of my game needs to improve.”
It’s that kind of drive that has impressed Lee, as well as the rest of the Jets’ coaching staff.
“Right now, he’s improving weekly and he improves on things that he screws up, which is what is encouraging to me,” Lee said. “Geno is smart and he prepares. He’s in this building at 6 a.m. every day. It’s not a mistake when he knows what he’s doing.”
The Jets want the season to play out before deciding whether Smith will be the guy under center for the next several years. Lee, who has coached quarterbacks in college and the pros for nearly 40 years, likes what he sees so far.
“I’ve had long enough to feel good about him and his future here with us,” Lee said.
Perhaps the most impressive thing has been Smith’s even-keeled approach — in wins and losses — acting anything but a wide-eyed rookie.
“He is the calmest guy,” Lee said. “I mean he goes out in pregame warmups, he’s calm. We come in beat New England, he’s just as calm as can be. I just wanted to slap him, say, ‘Hey, we won.’ He’s really calm and that’s a great trait to have as a quarterback with the pressure that’s on all these games.”
Added tight end Konrad Reuland: “He makes a bad play or has a bad game, he’s Mr. Steady. He doesn’t go down in the dumps. His confidence never wavers.”
Smith will stay in New Jersey during the bye-week break and use some down time to study when he’s not entertaining his family, who are visiting from south Florida. He predicted the Jets would go to the playoffs this year when he was drafted, and how he performs the rest of this season will have a direct effect on whether they get there.
“Going back on it, I wouldn’t have said that,” Smith said. “Obviously, you don’t want to make those bold predictions, but you have to live up to it and it’s something that I’ve always thought about.
“I made that statement and I definitely want to go out there and we want to go to the playoffs because we all do, not just because of that statement.”
NOTES: The Jets canceled a bowling event in New Jersey with the entire organization Tuesday because of a fire at the alley. According to the Jets’ website, a small group of staff members were in the building when smoke first appeared, but coaches and players had not yet arrived. Coach Rex Ryan later took photos with firefighters on the scene.
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