By TOM PEDULLA
JUNE 19, 2014
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — With the close of N.F.L. minicamps, many players will travel far and wide, eager to refresh their bodies and minds in preparation for the sweltering days of training camp leading to a 16-game regular season that inevitably leaves them battered, if not broken.
But on Thursday, the second-year Jets quarterback Geno Smith was hardly in vacation mode. “My job is 24/7, every single day,” he said. “There really is no time off.”
At the urging of coaches, Smith will allow himself the briefest of respites by taking a week or so to “relax my mind,” even as his conditioning continues. Then it will be back to film study, reviewing his performance during organized team activities and minicamp before he examines footage of opposing defenses.
Coach Rex Ryan was hardly surprised to hear of Smith’s devotion. “He’s been absolutely terrific,” Ryan said. “He’s on top of it.”
Smith’s study habits were among the variables the Jets could not be sure of when they drafted him in the second round after his stellar career at West Virginia. He eliminated any concern about how earnest he was about developing into a franchise quarterback, and his dedication has resulted in drastic progress.
Although he finished with the worst passer rating in the league last season at 66.5 and committed 25 turnovers — 21 interceptions and 4 fumbles — his improved play was the overriding factor in the Jets’ winning three of their last four games to finish 8-8. He had only two turnovers in the final quarter of the season.
According to Smith’s coaches, he has continued to make strides after joining the team as a raw talent.
“Last year at this time, it was 24/7 coaching footwork, where his eyes are, what his progression is, who his initial read is, all the different looks he could see,” said Marty Mornhinweg, who is in his second season as the team’s offensive coordinator. “So you go through every play, and we literally have hundreds of plays. This year, we call a play and — boom — he’s sprinting in and he’s got it.”
Uncertainty during practices is increasingly giving way to decisiveness. “You see a guy’s making better decisions because the ball’s coming out of his hands so much faster than it has been in the past,” said David Lee, the Jets’ quarterbacks coach. “He knows the offense so well; he now knows where everybody is when things break down and he has to move or scramble.”
It appears Smith used his strong finish and equally strong off-season to solidify his position in the minds of the coaches. At the end of last season, General Manager John Idzik did not make a commitment to Smith as the team’s quarterback for 2014. He also signed Michael Vick, a four-time Pro Bowler, ostensibly to compete with Smith.
But Vick said in late May that he did not see himself in an open competition for the job. When players report for training camp July 23 in Cortland, N.Y., it is expected that Smith will be given every opportunity to start. Mornhinweg has said Smith will receive 70 to 75 percent of the repetitions with the first team and some with the second team.
“There is no doubt he has grown in our offense,” said Matt Simms, the third quarterback on the depth chart. “It’s going to be an exciting year for him. I know he’s excited about it, and everyone else in this locker room is.”
Smith split repetitions with Mark Sanchez last summer as part of a competition that ended with a season-ending shoulder injury to Sanchez, who was released when Vick was signed. Smith said he would welcome the increased workload.
“You can never rep it enough,” he said.
REX RYAN said he gave a playbook to Alabama Coach NICK SABAN, but it remained unclear whether it ultimately reached Patriots Coach BILL BELICHICK. “In this business, you do share information with people,” Ryan said. “Nick Saban is a friend of Bill Belichick’s, and he’s a friend of mine as well.” Browns Coach MIKE PETTINE, the Jets’ defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012, told themmqb.com that TOM BRADY bragged during a wedding reception for WES WELKER that the Patriots had the Jets’ playbook. Pettine also told the website that Ryan would distribute playbooks “like candy.” Belichick told reporters: “Talk to Mike Pettine. I don’t know.” Ryan played down the importance of the playbook, even if Belichick had it. “Every time we played New England, the game plan is totally different,” he said. “That’s part of the chess match.” The Patriots won five consecutive regular-season meetings before the Jets prevailed, 30-27, in overtime Oct. 20 in their most recent game.