Sometimes, it’s necessary to hit rock bottom before the cream rises to the top.
That’s a lesson New York Giants quarterback Geno Smith seems to be learning this summer. Smith, the one-time starter of the New York Jets whose career was marred by on-field struggles and off-field controversies such as a locker room fight in which a teammate sucker punched him and broke his jaw, sought a fresh start with the Jets’ MetLife Stadium neighbors this past offseason.
On Friday night when the Giants open the preseason against the Steelers at home, Smith is hoping to take the next step in proving to not only himself but to the rest of the NFL that he’s every bit the capable quarterback the Jets envisioned he’d become when they drafted him in the second round (39th overall) in 2013.
“I’m excited,” Smith said after Wednesday’s practice. “Looking forward to it, you know, being my first game since last October, so, it’ll be fun. We’re going to go out there and cut it loose, you know, play like I know how and just give it everything I got.”
Unlike in the past when Smith might have been playing for a starting job, that pressure isn’t in the picture, not so long as Eli Manning is able to stand up and play.
Instead, Smith will do battle against Josh Johnson, the incumbent, for the backup job to Manning while trying to balance learning from the past with letting go of some of the unusual circumstances that, if he could, he’d go back and change.
“We’re still working, still getting better,” Smith said. “I’m always focused on football. I don’t look at the outside storylines, any of that. This is a game that I love. I enjoy playing it and I know that the ups and downs – they just come with it.”
It hasn’t been easy for the 26-year-old Smith. After signing a one-year contract with the Giants, Smith was limited throughout the spring thanks to his ongoing rehab following surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Although Smith was able to do some 7-on-7 work in the spring, the team held him out of the team work, a decision that while in his best interest health wise, put him behind.
But Smith, perhaps realizing the golden opportunity he has to put together some solid film for the other 31 teams, hit the playbook hard and really homed in on the mental reps.
So far, so good. Smith has had a string of practices in which he looked like the more impressive quarterback of the two as far as executing the plays, leaving some to believe he might have pulled even with Johnson in the competition.
“It’s pretty good, but it can get better,” Smith said of his knowledge of the playbook. “It’s continuously getting better. Every day I’m learning something new. Every day I’m getting better with the operation and exactly what Coach (McAdoo) wants. That’s something that’s important. Understanding what the coach wants, how he wants it done and being able to go out there and execute.”
Where Smith has had struggles has been in the execution. Although he has moved well—he doesn’t need a knee brace—his accuracy hasn’t always been spot on, one of the many things he knows he needs to address if he’s to beat Johnson out for the job.
Another area that Smith needs to address is ball security. His 36 interceptions aside, Smith had 17 career fumbles in four seasons with the Jets, 16 of them coming in his first two seasons in which he started 29 of the 30 games the team played.
“I mean, I’ve always been conscious of that,” Smith said of protecting the Duke.
What about the interceptions?
“When it comes to those interceptions – the majority of those happened as a rookie. I’m not making an excuse for it, but I learned from those mistakes and this is what? Four years later? So, I should be better. I am better. I’m smarter. I understand it. I see it better and that just comes with getting more reps and getting a better feel for the NFL game.”
Although there is some pressure to step up and perform, Smith has been trying to manage it so that he doesn’t become too high strung when it matters.
“Obviously, you’re going to play more minutes,” he said of the challenge before him. “You’re going to be out there longer, which is great, you know, you get a chance to get a feel for the guys around you, the offense. You get to get some live action, not just playing your own team. So, I think it’ll be great.”
his mental approach included looking at the big picture competition wise, meaning that it’s not necessarily Geno vs. Josh.
“We’re all competing to get each other better,” Smith said. “If it’s that one spot, then obviously I’m going for it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Josh. I think he’s a tremendous player. He’s been in this league a long time, proven guy. And, I mean, if it is a competition for one spot, as a competitor, you want to win every single competition.”
Regardless of what happens in the battle, Smith is always quick to weigh in on the blessing it’s been to be a part of the Giant organization.
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of time to work on my game, to become a more refined quarterback and, to work on my body and all the small things that help you continuously play in this league,” he said.
He just needs to prove it on the field under the bright lights.