EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It might seem strange that Geno Smith is on the other sideline, in a blue uniform, playing against his former team Saturday night when the New York Giants host the New York Jets in preseason action at MetLife Stadium. Smith had been in green each of the past four years for the third preseason game.
Except things change. His tumultuous time with the Jets ended this past offseason when they allowed him to walk as a free agent. Smith signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Giants.
Instead of battling for a starting job as in years past, he’s now in a fight for a backup position and a spot on the Giants roster. Any stick-it-to-the-Jets emotion has taken a back seat to a more pressing topic -- keeping his job.
“You always want to go out there and prove yourself, but nothing extra added toward them though,” Smith said. “I have a lot of great respect for a lot of people in that organization and I appreciated my time there, but now it’s just focusing on what we have to focus on, which is going out there and executing on game day.”
Smith is locked in a tight competition with Josh Johnson for the opportunity to back up Eli Manning this season. Johnson and Smith have alternated days with the second-team and third-team offenses, and neither has pulled away as the favorite.
Smith, 26, has flashed in the preseason. As he explained, he’s done a nice job of “finding completions.” Smith has completed 21-of-33 passes in two games.
The problem is the passes he hasn’t completed to his teammates. He's thrown two interceptions, and another was negated by a penalty. That’s three interceptions in the equivalent of less than a game of action.
It’s these kind of mistakes that could cost Smith an opportunity to stick with the Giants.
“Taking care of the ball would be an important part of being on this team, yes,” coach Ben McAdoo said.
That's one massive piece to the puzzle. Overall, though, there have still been positives.
“I think he is picking up the offense. He is working hard at it,” McAdoo said. “He gets football. He throws a nice, catchable ball and he completes a lot of balls, so we just have to eliminate the negative plays.”
When Smith takes the field against the Jets, he says he won’t be thinking about trying to avoid those killer turnovers. He claims that’s just not how his brain processes.
“I never think about it. Honestly, I don’t put my focus on the negative,” Smith said. “When I go out on the field, I think about scoring touchdowns, leading the guys and making sure we’ve got that fire and that drive to go out there and put points on the board.”
Smith had a rocky four years with the Jets, filled with its fair share of ups and downs. He started 30 games, including 16 as a rookie.
And even though it ended on a sour note with Smith tearing the ACL in his right knee in an October game that ended up being his last with the team, there are positive memories.
“I’ve got so many. Honestly, just being in the locker room with the guys, just being with the guys,” he said of his favorite Jets memory. “All those guys on the team, guys who are still there, like [defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson], some guys who are gone like [Nick] Mangold, a couple of guys that were on the team my rookie year. We built some great bonds and became more than just teammates. We became friends. And I think that was something that’s really special.”
On the field, the results weren’t great. Smith threw more interceptions (36) than touchdowns (28). The Jets went 27-37 in his four seasons with the team.
Smith claims to have learned from it all. He still talks to some ex-teammates, although they had not -- as of Thursday afternoon -- reached out specifically about Saturday’s game.
His current teammates have asked him about the Jets. Smith has obliged. He’s provided tips on how they operate, all while keeping it cool.
Deep down, though, this Saturday will probably be a little more meaningful that a third preseason game where he’s simply fighting for a backup job, even if Smith doesn’t want to admit it.
“I’m pretty sure he has his own thing that he wants to get out there and do with the team that drafted him,” Johnson said. “He was there for a long time, so I would be shocked if he didn’t have anything extra added in this.”