FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Twenty-three year old quarterback Geno Smith has had a lot to contemplate this week. He’s been yanked from two games, including last week’s after throwing three interceptions. His team is 5-5 and teetering in range of a wild card spot in the playoffs, and in order for that to happen, he’s got to start maturing fast for a rookie.
But Jets coach Rex Ryan saw a sign of that happening, and it came in practice this week. Smith has been getting back to the one clear advantage he had over Mark Sanchez, and that’s his ability to run the ball.
“He’s been throwing the ball with great accuracy during the week,” Ryan said. “If it’s not there he’s been taking off with it, so I think that’s good also. He sees certain coverages, knows that he can make some plays with his legs as well and that’s been encouraging to me.”
The Jets have won each of the three games that Smith has scored a rushing touchdown, though all three have been games at MetLife Stadium -- against the Bills, Patriots and Saints. In last week’s loss, he attempted to run the ball only once. The Jets are on the road this week to take on Baltimore, and Ryan would like to see him run more.
“Geno’s athletic enough to where he can burn you on that,” Ryan said. “He’s not a 4.4 speed guy, but he’s quick enough and fast enough that he can do some damage when he’s running.”
Smith’s teammates understand just how hard it is for a rookie to come in at quarterback. The offense has been tailored to his nascent skill set, and receivers like David Nelson realize it takes patience.
“For a receiver, we really just have to learn what we do and do what we do,” Nelson said. “For a quarterback, he has to learn what he does and then all other 10 guys. And also what all 11 guys on the other side of the ball are doing every single week
There’s a lot. The guys who have been in the league for a while can rely on what they learned the last three or four years, they’ve done it before and they know it. They see a defense and I kind of know how to beat it. For Geno, it’s a brand new defense, it’s a brand new system so it’s like, what do I do?”
It starts with reading defensive formations, whether it’s man or zone coverage, and knowing when you have an opportunity. Smith needs to get to a point where he has more confidence in that.
“There’s a difference between Two Zone and Two Man, obviously, but a lot of the man things, sometimes you’ll have more of an opportunity to run,” Ryan said. “It goes without saying, (the defender’s) back is to the quarterback, so there’s bigger plays to be made that way.”
There are a lot of question marks with Smith still. Is he the Jets quarterback future or just a layover between Sanchez and the next one? But Smith doesn’t do himself any favors if he doesn’t showcase his strengths.
Offensive lineman Willie Colon put it simply, “It’s the same thing you tell a jump shooter, keep shooting.”
Or in Smith’s case, keep running.