FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Geno Smith handles defenses the same way he deals with the media.
Blitzes or probing questions, the New York Jets rookie quarterback stands there unflustered and delivers.
Just cool, calm and confident.
“He’s playing well,” right guard Willie Colon said Wednesday. “He’s composed. I love everything about him. He comes out to practice every day and is a hard worker.
“You can tell ‘The Show’ is not too big for him.”
By the numbers, Smith has had an up-and-down first three games of his NFL career. The Jets are OK with that.
He has made big plays in each of the team’s wins in a surprising 2-1 start. He vows to cut down on his mistakes — six interceptions — and the Jets appear willing to live with them, especially with Mark Sanchez out until at least midseason with a shoulder injury.
After all, this is Smith’s team now — maybe for good.
“I’ve been making progress,” Smith said. “The good thing is that it’s been steady. It’s been day by day.”
There were tons of questions when the Jets stunningly drafted Smith in the second round in April, with some fans and media concerned about his approach to the game, his ability to lead and whether his skills during a record-setting career at West Virginia would translate at the next level.
The change in how Smith looked in rookie camp in May to now is off-the-charts different. Sure, there are some still issues with footwork, poorly placed balls and bad reads.
“You never want to be the weak link,” Smith said, “or the guy who’s holding the team back or the offense back.”
But his performance in a 27-20 victory over Buffalo last Sunday provided a bright glimpse into what the Jets might have.
“His communication and level of expertise is just getting better,” Colon said. “I think it’s important for us to get him in a rhythm, keep his confidence high and sky’s the limit.”
Smith became the first Jets rookie to throw for 300 yards, going 16 of 29 for 331 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The biggest play was his go-ahead 69-yard toss to Santonio Holmes in the fourth quarter after the Bills tied the game and appeared to steal the momentum.
Marty Mornhinweg’s offense had one of the best showings in Jets history, marking the first time the franchise had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher (Bilal Powell) and two 100-yard receivers (Holmes and Stephen Hill).
“Yeah, we had a good game, but we’ve got to move on from it,” Smith said. “We’ve got a long season and we’ve got a tough week coming up.”
The next test is the Tennessee Titans, who have been watching plenty of film of Smith the past few days. They’ve seen a quarterback who regularly hangs in the pocket, unfazed by the potential of taking a big hit.
“He has the ability to take off when necessary, but he wants to throw the ball,” Titans cornerback Jason McCourty said.
Added safety Bernard Pollard: “I see a lot of poise in him. I see a guy that’s able to deliver the ball. I haven’t seen him throw every route, but at the end of the day, the guy can do it.”
Smith’s 65.0 quarterback rating is in the bottom half of the league, and the six interceptions are second in the NFL to the Giants’ Eli Manning, who has eight. Those numbers could have the Jets contemplating a quarterback change if Sanchez were still starting.
But because Smith is a rookie with an immeasurable ceiling and terrific arm, there’s a fascination within the organization to see how good he could become. Rex Ryan has never announced Smith as the starter for the season, and he won’t even acknowledge whether he sees him as a franchise-type player.
“I don’t want to get into that,” Ryan said. “I was happy with seeing the improvement that he made and the conscious effort that he made from Week 2 to Week 3, and it was in the incompletions.”
Smith got into trouble against New England when he tried to make plays, forcing balls into coverage and getting intercepted three times in the fourth quarter of a 13-10 loss. Against Buffalo, Smith threw four or five balls away when he didn’t see a play.
“He’s not going to force it,” Ryan said. “He’s not going to make the critical error.”
Holmes, who had a career-high 154 yards receiving against the Bills, isn’t surprised by what he’s seeing from the rookie.
“We’re more so happy with the opportunities he’s given us,” Holmes said. “He’s putting the ball in great positions for us to make big plays for our team. … I’m more excited to see the opportunity that he was given and the opportunity that he is taking advantage of right now.”
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