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Jones: Jets QB Geno Smith Is Taking Steps Forward, Playing More Freely

Geno Smith Is Gaining Experience And Saying The Right Things
Geno Smith (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Geno Smith (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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By Kimberly Jones
» More Columns

For weeks, it has seemed a bit foolish to us that less than a full season into his career, the Jets would – or could – be expected to reach conclusions on precisely the caliber of quarterback Geno Smith is. Or could be.

Then along came the latest Robert Griffin III furor at Redskins Park, and we were reminded – again – that instantaneous judgment is the way of the world. Including the NFL world.

Neither Griffin nor Smith is a finished product, though we know much more about Griffin. Former Heisman Trophy winner. Offensive Rookie of the Year. Franchise Quarterback. Benched quarterback.

A year ago, Griffin led the Redskins to six consecutive wins, a finish that won the NFC East. Now, he has quarterbacked the Redskins to five consecutive losses, a stretch that led to his benching.

And Griffin will stand and watch the final three games of his 3-10 sophomore season, which has represented a considerable decline both in performance and in physical health, coming off reconstructive knee surgery, from 2012.

Consider: Griffin changed games last year in many ways, including with his legs, rushing for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. This year he has run for 489 yards and no scores.

Where does that leave Griffin? In 2014, he will be presumably healthy and likely guided by a new coach, as Mike Shanahan appears incapable of coexisting with Daniel Snyder. And there will be question marks, plenty of them, about Griffin and his ability to win and to lead.

And this is a guy who was drafted second overall and considered a franchise changer.

Which brings us back to Geno Smith. Smith wasn’t seen as NFL-ready out of West Virginia. As he reminded us recently, it wasn’t until he was a Jet that Smith learned how to execute a five-step drop and go through his progressions. (Imagine that.)

In the past week, Smith took an important step. He readjusted his game, at the urging of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and stopped trying to be perfect. (That wasn’t working, anyway.) He got back to running with the football. He played more freely.

After a stretch of horrible football that included his not throwing a touchdown in November, Smith apparently had an epiphany. “I was playing like a robot,” he said. “Everything is not ideal on the field. Sometimes you’ve got to improvise.”

Surely, not everything goes according to plan. Not with RG3 and the Redskins. Not with Geno and the Jets.

Snyder mortgaged part of his team’s future to get Griffin; the Rams are thrilled to have Washington’s 2014 draft pick, which will be a valuable one. The Jets spent a second-rounder on Smith, who is gaining valuable experience and, at the very least, saying the right things.

We won’t know enough about either quarterback until next year, perhaps. But at least for now, Smith is still playing, still starting and still growing into the job.

New York, New York: Incredibly, Eli Manning and Geno Smith are tied for the most interceptions in the league, with 20. Equally incredibly – based on how both teams were thought of in August — it is Smith and the Jets who are still fighting for a playoff berth (Footballoutsiders.com gives them a 4.4 percent chance) while Manning and Co. are one of seven teams already eliminated.

Turnovers!: Tom Coughlin has a career turnover differential of plus-48. Which makes the Giants minus-13 this season, last in the NFC, both galling and uncharacteristic. It’s no accident that the Seahawks, in line to be the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC, are plus-12 in turnovers. Though there are some exceptions, the correlation to success is pretty obvious. “There is no doubt about it,” Coughlin said. “Whether Seattle or anybody has that kind of number, I don’t need the reinforcement. I know what wins and loses, and certainly giving the ball to the opposition, does not allow you to win.”

Quote of the day: “Outstanding play, outstanding leadership, true team orientation, true everything. I think everything he thinks of and does is in the best interest of our team. And as I like to see, when he was elected captain, he’s shown true ownership of this team.” Tom Coughlin, on Antrel Rolle’s season

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