Geno Smith may have experienced his fair share of growing pains during the offseason, but don't be surprised if the former West Virginia star wins the Jets quarterback competition against incumbent Mark Sanchez that begins in earnest on Friday in Cortland.
Smith admittedly has a large learning curve, but he won't have to master all the components of being an NFL quarterback to be the Jets' opening day starter.
"I will say this… I know this: He's way ahead of the pace of a normal rookie," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told The Daily News at the conclusion of the offseason program. "Guys that are quite skilled sometimes get away with some mechanical (flaws) in a game. They're just so good athletically that they get away with them for a period of time and then they get better and better and better and better."
"I think Geno's close," he added. "I don't think he's there yet. But he's close to being able to get into a game and function at a high level. So our whole challenge — and his challenge — is that first preseason game (against the Lions on Aug. 9). Now let's get to a point where you can function at a high level."
Quarterbacks coach David Lee delivered a blunt assessment of Smith's flaws during minicamp such as conveying plays in the huddle, mastering snap counts and recognizing "hot" reads, but he made it clear that the rookie could still get up to speed enough to be the Week 1 starter against the Buccaneers on Sept. 8.
Smith's biggest physical hurdle is sharpening his footwork on drop backs after spending much of his college career in shotgun. However, Mornhinweg has seen enough promising signs to give him hope.
"He's done a fabulous job," Mornhinweg said. "That is a heck of an offense that they have at West Virginia. However, we base much of our success of accuracy and timing and decision making and precision with the footwork… So, I know this: He's done an outstanding job (with) some of the things that he's done… He reverted back several times in practice: Both 7-on-7 and team (11 on 11). Just absolutely normal."
Rex Ryan suggested that the Jets could initially use Smith in a change-of-pace role similar to the 49ers' handling of Colin Kaepernick last season before he took over the starting job. However, Mornhinweg didn't want to speculate how/if Smith would be used if he doesn't win the quarterback competition.
"Those are too many ifs, ands and buts," Mornhinweg said. "I will say this: Geno is an excellent athlete. He's really progressed at a high level. He's done this fast and it's because he put in the hard work both on and off the field in preparation. He's done an outstanding job that way. I know he's got the mentality of if he can help the team in any way, he'll do it."
Mornhinweg admitted Smith's lack of exposure to a pistol or read-option offense in college wouldn't preclude the Jets from teaching him to do it now.
"Oh yeah. He does much of that really naturally," Mornhinweg said. "He's a natural football player. Football comes easy to him. So, yeah… Look, we've worked a little bit of these types of (read-option) things (in practice) to give our defense a look… But he'll do anything to help our football team. "
Mornhinweg said that he'll have "a big-picture plan that could be adjusted game to game and sometimes even within the game" during the preseason for Sanchez and Smith.
Smith has already said that he feels that he has "a great shot" to win the job, but can the Jets realistically expect him to be ready to be the starter for Week 1?
"We'll see. That's up to him," Mornhinweg said. "That's up to Geno. It's really that simple. He's been progressing at a very high rate."