BOCA RATON, Fla. — “The Punch” may have cost Geno Smith his starting job, but Jets coach Todd Bowles said it also provided the young quarterback with an opportunity to prove his mental toughness.
“He always worked hard,” Bowles said yesterday morning at the AFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL owners meetings. “But he kept his head down and kept working and he moved on. And that’s tough to do. That’s tough to do.”
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Smith was the team’s No. 1 quarterback before a training-camp altercation changed the course of his career and the franchise. Then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali was kicked off the team on Aug. 11 after punching Smith in the face in the Jets’ locker room over an unpaid $600 debt.
A healthy Smith returned to the practice field a month later following jaw surgery, but by then the Jets had put their trust in his backup, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
But if the 33-year-old free-agent quarterback doesn’t re-sign with the team, Bowles said Smith and third-stringer Bryce Petty “could be an option.” The coach also noted Smith, 25, has matured quite a bit since the incident, adding: “I think he handles situations differently than I saw him earlier in the year.”
So what more does the former 2013 second-round pick have to do to become a starting quarterback again?
“He just has to stay the path and keep doing what he’s doing,” Bowles said. “ . . . I think he just has to get an opportunity.”
Asked how “The Punch” affected Smith, Bowles said: “You learn from your mistakes, as we all do. …There’s a lot of people that could destroy your team after going through something like that, but he was a team player, he showed up on time, he worked hard and he kept his head down. And I respect him for that.”
Questioned further, the coach later clarified his word choice.
Said Bowles: “Maybe ‘mistake’ was a bad word. “It was an experience and you learn from your experience.”