Receivers don't get pass in subpar passing game

Stephen Hill warms up before a game against

Stephen Hill warms up before a game against the New Orleans Saints at MetLife Stadium. (Nov. 3, 2013) (Credit: Lee S. Weissman)

Geno Smith may be a rookie quarterback still trying to adjust to life in the NFL, but he gets the drill: At this level and with so much importance placed on his position, the scrutiny is all on him.

And that's fine, because he always stands up and takes the blame if things go wrong, which has mostly been the case during this six-game run of one touchdown pass and 10 interceptions.

But the reality for any quarterback, regardless of age or experience, is a far more complicated equation that goes well beyond his individual skill set. And in Geno's case, you can't ignore the fact that his receivers are among the weakest in the NFL.

Consider: When the Jets face the Dolphins on Sunday in a game with massive implications in the AFC wild-card race, Smith's starting wideouts figure to be David Nelson, who wasn't even with the team at the start of the season, and Stephen Hill, the former second-round pick who regularly has been criticized by Rex Ryan.

Santonio Holmes, the oft-injured receiver, is unlikely to play because of continued hamstring problems. Holmes, one of the NFL's highest-paid wide receivers with a $7.5-million salary this season (even after a $3- million pay cut), has played in only six games. Last year, he suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 4.

Jeremy Kerley, probably the most reliable receiver on the roster, has missed the last two games with an elbow injury and is questionable for Sunday.

Greg Salas, signed off the Eagles' practice squad, has only six catches. And Josh Cribbs, who has experience as a receiver, was signed as a return man and Wildcat quarterback.

Smith never has and never will make any excuses about his wide receiver situation, but it doesn't take a football expert to understand that at least some of his issues are related to the lack of talent around him.

Throw in the fact that there also have been injury problems at tight end -- as well as Kellen Winslow Jr.'s suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs -- and the situation is even worse.

A lot of Smith's problems are on him, and there's no getting around that. But it's not all his fault, and he remains undeterred in the face of adversity.

"I don't like to make any excuses," he said. "The guys that we've had, who've come in and filled in for some guys that have been hurt, have done a tremendous job at picking things up and running with it. Guys like Greg Salas, David Nelson, [tight end] Zack Sudfeld, all those guys have come in and been able to contribute for us. Even if it's been a small portion, they've all helped. So just getting guys back healthy is going to help us out, as well as just me playing better, being more precise and making better throws."

Smith puts it all on himself, but with so little talent among his receiving corps, his challenges are that much more daunting. The dropped passes -- there were three of them last week -- only add to the problem.

Even so, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg sees progress from Smith, a counterintuitive assessment given the poor stats in recent games.

"It sounds crazy, but Geno has made some strides in the last couple of weeks," Mornhinweg said. "It's just very difficult to see from afar. He's clear-minded, there is no lack of confidence with him. Those are good things."

But getting Smith -- or whoever turns out to be the Jets' quarterback of the future, especially if they draft another quarterback in the spring -- some quality receivers will be a major priority for general manager John Idzik.

With Holmes almost certain to be gone after two straight injury-filled seasons, the Jets will need to make a major commitment at the position. That means finding quality receivers in the draft, through free agency and/or trades.

Maybe it means making a run at the Giants' Hakeem Nicks, whose contract expires after the season, although given Nicks' injury problems, that might be a gamble.

Other receivers expected to be on the open market next year: Jacoby Jones of the Ravens, Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles (coming off a knee injury), Emmanuel Sanders of the Steelers and Anquan Boldin of the 49ers.

Some early blue-chip prospects in the draft include Mike Evans of Texas A&M, Marqise Lee of USC and Sammy Watkins of Clemson.

The Jets could decide to use their first-round pick on a quarterback, in which case there still would be quality at receiver later in the draft.

Whatever the case, Idzik needs to find help in a big way. He couldn't address all his needs in Year 1 of the Jets' rebuilding project, but wide receiver will have to be a priority -- maybe the priority -- in 2014.

Just look at who's lining up Sunday, and it's not hard to see why.

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