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Johnson confident in Geno, Jets

Florham Park, NJ - Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

Florham Park, NJ - Tuesday, January 8, 2013. Woody Johnson meets the media. (Credit: David Pokress David Pokress)

Despite reports of Geno Smith being a pampered prima donna, Jets owner Woody Johnson made it clear he and the team had no reservations about selecting the rookie quarterback 39th overall in last month’s NFL draft.

“He was the highest-rated player [remaining] on our board,” Johnson told reporters Tuesday at the NFL’s Career Development Symposium in Philadelphia. “I’m extremely happy to have him. …He was a gifted athlete from Day One. I guess they identified him very, very early when he was a little kid as being something special.”

“We went by our evaluations,” the Jets' owner continued, adding that he sat in on Smith’s 15-minute Combine interview in February and saw no red flags regarding the QB’s character. “We evaluate all those traits: skills and communication, leadership… We evaluate them. He got a very high score with us.”

Johnson also told reporters that the Jets considered drafting Smith later in the first round if they had traded down. Ultimately, they didn’t and instead chose to take cornerback Dee Milliner ninth and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson 13th overall. Despite Smith’s second-round selection, the Jets front office has repeatedly said Smith will compete with Mark Sanchez and David Garrard (not to mention, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms). But Johnson – who famously touted “you can never have enough Tebow” and predicted the backup quarterback would be a Jet for the duration of his contract -- resisted the urge to label Smith as the new face of his franchise.

“I’ll let the competition go,” Johnson said. “We’ll just see how it goes. I don’t want to pre-judge it because they’ve got to go in there and compete every day. We’ll see what it looks like on the field.”

As for Sanchez, who likely wouldn’t be on the roster if not for his guaranteed $8.25 million salary, Johnson said: “I expect him to compete. He’s under contract.”

The Jets owner also chose not to shed light on Rex Ryan’s future as head coach. “I would never talk about contracts or anything like that," Johnson said, when asked if the Jets would consider extending Ryan’s contract midseason. “We normally don't discuss contracts or extensions or anything like that.”

While Ryan admitted last week the Jets didn’t “take advantage” of Tebow’s skillset, Johnson simply said the trade for the former Denver Bronco “was something that didn’t work.”

“There’s nothing bad about trying to make yourself better,” the Jets owner said. “The fit obviously wasn’t perfect or he’d still be here… If you make a decision that doesn’t work -- I’m not saying it’s a bad decision – if you make a decision that doesn’t help the team, you move on.”

Tebow was a nonfactor in the Jets’ offense last season and was released April 29 – two days after the draft ended – after the Jets failed to find a trade partner.

“It didn’t work for us. That doesn’t mean it won’t work somewhere else,” Johnson said of the polarizing QB – though he wouldn’t say whether Tebow will land on his feet in the NFL.

“That’s not up to me,” Johnson said. “He has done some amazing things…(but that) depends on the next general manager and coach. You got to listen to what he wants to do. Everybody’s looking at him now, I imagine. I hope the best for him. I think he’s a great young man. I have a lot of respect for him.”

There are many uncertainties heading into the 2013 season, but Johnson expressed nothing but confidence in new general manager John Idzik. So, the Jets owner’s advice for fans is simple – at least, in theory.

“Be patient, be patient,” Johnson said. “Have trust that we're doing the right thing for your team, we're trying to do the right thing for your team. That's why John was brought in and the other coaching changes were made: to make us more competitive."

“You’ve got to have some faith that these decisions will pan out, the draft is going to work. I'm very confident the draft we had was a good one, we stuck to what we believed in and the way we set things up."

When a reporter joked that the New England Patriots should look out, Johnson laughed.

“Absolutely,” he said. “You’re right.”  

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