By Jeff Capellini
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s something to be said about how the Jets are approaching their quarterback situation.
It’s very commendable.
For the first time in a very long time they are showing conviction. They are sticking to a plan. They have inserted contingencies in case it goes awry, but their vision of what they would like to see at the position is crystal clear.
The Jets haven’t been this prepared for the unknown in some time, which is why they’ll likely be all right no matter what happens.
In a best-case scenario, Geno Smith takes a big leap forward during his sophomore season. There have already been several encouraging signs that the wide-eyed rookie from a year ago will handle himself like a more seasoned pro this time around. He said Thursday the game is slowing down out there, a telling statement in that, when coupled with Rex Ryan’s declaration that Smith knows the offense upside-down and backwards, it screams that Geno believes he is already a more confident and cerebral quarterback than he was at any point last season.
Smith feels at ease because the Jets have gone out of their way to make him feel comfortable, but in a manner that in no way can be mistaken for coddling, something Mark Sanchez was afforded at basically every juncture of his five seasons with the Jets — and to his detriment, I might add.
Michael Vick is really not a threat to Smith, nor is he the savior that will help Rex keep his job, and it’s not because he’s not talented or doesn’t have a resume that suggests he’s had a very solid career. He’s the Jets’ insurance policy but only on a limited basis. He knows this offense for the most part but will continue to only get 25 percent of the reps with the first team. Does that sound like someone who is honestly competing for anything? Does it sound like someone Ryan actively enlisted to help him turn his sixth year into a seventh?
Rex isn’t stupid. He knows sticking with Smith is a risk, but if the second-year signal-caller becomes the man, he guarantees the coach many more years. Vick, for all of his ability, can play out of his mind this season, but he won’t be around long enough to impact whether Rex is here three or four years from now.
Vick hasn’t done it consistently for a full season since before he went to prison in 2007. His durability is a huge question mark, yet to many fans the aura of Vick is still a better option than the relative inexperience — yet considerable upside — of Smith.
Thank God the Jets don’t think like a lot of their fans.
General manager John Idzik is in the midst of building a team that doesn’t just want to make one spirited run into February in an attempt to erase the 45 empty years since Joe Namath. You roll the dice with Vick if that’s what you want. Idzik, it seems, would much rather shoot for a consistent winner that puts itself in position for yearly opportunities to go deep into the playoffs.
That’s why the Jets are starting Smith. Because with his big arm and electric athleticism, if he hits and the young defense stays as advertised the Jets will be in a position to contend for years.
And if you’ve waited this long for a championship, what’s another season or two while the Geno scenario plays itself out? Do you really think the now-34-year-old Vick is going to magically play 16 games, or that if he does stay healthy he won’t be the turnover machine he’s been over the last few seasons (38 in his last 30 games)?
The Jets, themselves, are fully behind Smith. Wide receiver David Nelson, who is not exactly outspoken but has come out of his shell a bit of late, has been echoing a lot of the things Ryan has said about Smith, who clearly owned the first day of training camp on Thursday.
“I think Geno looked better than I’ve ever seen him,” Nelson raved.
And, as Nelson pointed out, there are many reasons for that.
“Just knowing it’s his team and knowing that he has what it takes and the confidence,” Nelson said. “Last year, he didn’t really have a chance to worry about himself because he had a lot of different pieces coming in every week. He had a new offense. He had to learn the playbook. He had to learn adjustments. There was so much being thrown at him. Now, that’s kind of second-nature to him.”
We all know Ryan will tout anyone in his charge, but it’s clear that he sees a different Smith. He started saying so back during the offseason workouts, maybe because he wished it so. But after Thursday, he sounded like he was becoming a true believer.
“This time last year, it’s like, ‘Man, is this a three-step, five-step, seven-step (drop), what is this?'” Ryan said. “Now it’s just automatic. He knows it. He knows this offense and you see it and he’s confident.”
But that’s not good enough for some folks.
Fans and media make odd bedfellows. They sometimes want the same things, but for altogether different reasons.
There are many reporters who spend their time on Twitter during training camp giving every stat imaginable as if there really is a quarterback competition, mostly because they want one. Their jobs are much more interesting that way. I can’t say I blame them, but if anyone should understand how the Jets have botched the quarterback position over the decades due in part to ill-advised decisions and substandard evaluation, it’s members of the media.
But it’s a quarterback competition they crave, so we not only get inundated with Smith and Vick stats in 11-on-11, including completion percentages and turnovers, we also get precise numbers of reps, drops by receivers and in-depth descriptions of over- and under-thrown passes, as if these daily reveals will somehow force Ryan to finally give the people what they supposedly want.
A lot of fans are just flat negative. They think because Smith had an up-and-down rookie season — I repeat, rookie season — he’ll never be good. This is the instant-gratification crew. They have no patience for anything. Sanchez never realized his potential, so Smith became the flavor of the month. But once Smith failed to become Peyton Manning overnight, the assumption became that he’d never amount to anything and the Jets either would have to draft yet another QB early or sign a veteran, even if the free agent class was absurdly weak, as was the case this offseason.
All of this just seems to go beyond the usual vitriol of the disgruntled fan.
Geno Smith is not beyond reproach, but he’s earned the right to prove to us that he can be. If he can’t get it done Vick will play and no one will be upset about it.
But in the interim, can we at least give this kid a chance? He might just surprise everyone.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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