Geno Smith believes in himself, as do Jets
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The criticisms of Geno Smith have been well documented.
Yet there isn't a hint of hesitation when he speaks of himself or his NFL future. Everything that came before this very moment -- his record-breaking four-year college career at West Virginia, the subsequent comments from his detractors and his eventual first-round snub in the 2013 draft -- is now irrelevant, Smith said.
"You know what? Critics don't have a pick," Smith said at his introductory news conference Saturday at the Jets' Florham Park facility. "The only thing that matters now is the Jets selected me."
The Jets have been careful not to publicly set the ceiling too high for their newest quarterback, but the timing of his arrival signals a significant shift in their long-term thinking. They traded their first- and second-round selections in 2009, plus three players, in order to select Mark Sanchez fifth overall -- and only four years later, Sanchez is one of six quarterbacks vying for the starting job this offseason.
But Smith -- a competitive "football junkie," according to Jets area scout Michael Davis -- is determined to seize the bright lights of the Big Apple someday.
"My goal is to be a franchise quarterback," he said. "But as of now, there's a lot of work to be done. I've got to handle my playbook, I've got to get into the weight room and start preparing myself for training camp right now."
Much has been made about his perceived deficiencies, not just in the passing game but personality-wise. He's been criticized for not being tough enough, especially in cold-weather games, and for not possessing the skills to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. But Smith has no doubt he can succeed at this level. And neither do the Jets.
New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, new quarterbacks coach David Lee, Davis and another scout traveled to Morgantown last month to get a better sense of Geno Smith the football player and person. And the hours spent over dinner with Smith the night before his pro day ultimately helped solidify his placement on their April draft board.
"In my mind, I wanted to get to know the man," Mornhinweg said. "We certainly talked quite a little bit of football at dinner. And then the next day, he had his pro day. And he did do an excellent job."
Mornhinweg quickly learned that Smith is "an impressive young man," but the coordinator needed more visual evidence about his downfield accuracy. The Jets contingent also used their time in Morgantown to talk to Smith's coaches and teammates. "But," Mornhinweg said, "you still go back to the production on film."
Smith said he was lucky to have "a tremendous amount of freedom" at West Virginia, an environment in which the coaching staff trusted him to help put the game plans together each week, he said. Added Smith, "I think it helped me grow over the course of the last two years."
But nevertheless, Smith -- the presumed first quarterback off the board -- fell to No. 39 overall in the second round. He wouldn't venture a guess about why his critics, and all 32 teams, believed he wasn't worthy of a first-round pick. "It's not for me to say," Smith said, adding that he had gotten word the Jets considered taking him at No. 13. Instead, general manager John Idzik opted for Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
"My character and my play speaks for itself,'' Smith said. "The people who've known me my entire life and who have coached me have all come to my defense, and as far as that goes, I'm just looking toward the future and really not worrying about the past . . .
"I believe there are a number of things that go into play when it comes to being a successful quarterback. I think it starts with the person first, and then everything around them. But I'm in a great situation here. The Jets, I believe, have a really good team."
Much is riding on the Jets' decision to draft Smith, but Davis said he had no reservations about putting his reputation on the line. "That's my job. That's what I do," the Richmond-based scout said. "I have no problem with that. I think he's worth it. I think our organization [believes that]. It wasn't just me. We did it as an organization. We all felt good about it, we talked it through and we're glad to have him."