After months of legwork, Jets prepared to be patient with Geno Smith
Conor Orr/The Star-Ledger By Conor Orr/The Star-Ledger
on April 27, 2013 at 11:20 PM, updated April 28, 2013 at 10:07 AM
The scout did his best to soften up the young quarterback during their first few meetings during his senior year in Morgantown, W. Va. The key is to make the kid comfortable. Allow him to open up about his strengths and weaknesses; give him a chance to let personality shine through.
Mike Davis, a Jets regional scout based out of Richmond, Va., about a five-hour drive from Geno Smith and the Mountaineers, had seen all the tape. He started logging footage of the versatile 6-2¼, 220-pound prospect the summer before Smith’s senior year in preparation of a long season ahead.
If the personality matched the arm, the speed and the footwork, it was worth keeping up on.
"He knew the history of football," Davis said. "Sitting down talking to him, he’s all the things you want your quarterback to be."
The offensive coordinator was brought in for the next step. At dinner on the night of March 13, Marty Mornhinweg, Davis and Jeff Bauer, the Jets director of player personnel, wanted to vet all the legwork and talk football.
Based on a dismal Jets season in 2012, it was apparent the team could go in a different direction at the position if need be.
"That was an important deal there," Mornhinweg said of the dinner. "In my mind, I wanted to get to know the man."
More than a month later, their target still lingered on the board entering the NFL Draft’s second night, and was in the green room at Radio City Music Hall waiting for someone to pluck him.
Smith said that he spoke to the Jets during the first round. They called and told him they had waffled between Smith and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson with the No. 13 pick.
Now it was the No. 39 choice (the team’s third of the draft) and all the vetting, interviewing, tape logging and talking had weight on the pick. There were already five quarterbacks on the depth chart, including the 2009 No. 5 overall pick, Mark Sanchez.
Then head coach Rex Ryan, dressed in a white button-down shirt with light green tie, got on the speakerphone shortly before 7:05 p.m. Friday. Smith was on the line.
"Just think, man, in two weeks we get out there on that field and by then, it doesn’t matter where you got drafted or anything else," Ryan said on the phone. "We’re all Jets, and we’re proud to have you here, okay?"
And to think, this was the easy part. Bringing in Smith, widely considered the best quarterback in the draft took just a second. One phone call after months of scouting and an afternoon’s worth of discussion. Now, the hard work begins.
Now, the Jets must navigate a quarterback competition while ensuring that Smith, the subject of all the legwork, develops properly. With a team in transition, the temptation is to throw Smith into the high-speed NFL blur and have him learn on the fly. But two days into his career, the coaches are content keeping their foot off the accelerator and letting Smith grow in the system.
"Let’s just see how fast we can get this thing going," Mornhinweg said Saturday. "We’ll get him back in the building in about two weeks and then we’ll start the process."
Smith was able to pick up his playbook and tour the facility Saturday for the second time. While the team drafted offensive line depth around him — three straight picks from round three to round six — Smith met all the major players all over again: Mornhinweg, quarterbacks coach David Lee, general manager John Idzik and Ryan.
He posed for pictures and was shuffled in and out of rooms for television interviews.
"I’ve pretty much got a feel for the building and where I’ll be having meetings at, but just getting a whole new feel for it," Smith said.
Over the next two weeks, he plans to devour the playbook while the Jets develop their 2013 plan. Ryan said the team is not at the stage where a decision needs to be made on a starter or a final depth chart. He is confident in Sanchez to win the job, just like he is confident in Smith.
"As far as the timetable, our focus is in the short-term right now," Ryan said.