FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The 16 spiral-bound notebooks are arranged neatly inside Geno Smith's locker, ready to be opened by the Jets' second-year quarterback whenever he feels the need to review a nugget of information from last season. A third-down formation. A sight adjustment on a blitz. Whether he made the right read on a given play. Or called for the proper blocking scheme.
No detail is too small for Smith to scribble inside the notebooks, which have become indispensable reference tools as he prepares for his second NFL season and looks to hold on to a starting job that could very well be threatened by 34-year-old veteran Michael Vick, one of Smith's childhood idols. Taking a page -- or, more accurately, hundreds of pages -- from Peyton Manning, who has kept voluminous notes since his rookie season in 1998, Smith is fanatical about writing down what he sees on film and what he hears from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach David Lee.
"Football is a lot like being a doctor, because you're constantly going over the same things and you have to continue to study the same things over and over," Smith said on Thursday after a workout at the Jets' training facility. "Minute details are what's important, so having those things written down is very meaningful to me. If we're going over a [game plan] install and I need to revert back to something, then I can go back to the notebooks and read back on it and see if there was anything I might have missed on that install."
In a game that relies as much on what is inside a player's mind as his physical tools, Smith's almost maniacal attention to detail may very well determine whether he takes the quantum leap the Jets are looking for in Year 2. Or whether he hits what is commonly referred to as a sophomore jinx and finds himself unable to fend off Vick's challenge. The coaches have told both quarterbacks that Smith is the starter at this point, but they know and we know that things change in a hurry in the NFL. Even if Smith goes into the season as the No. 1 quarterback, there is no guarantee it stays that way, especially if he goes through a prolonged struggle similar to last year's midseason malaise.
Smith hopes the mental preparation, much of which is on the pages of those spiral-bound notebooks, will see him through this latest challenge. As for exactly what's written on those pages, that's for Smith's eyes only. Just as Manning guards his insights with the protectiveness of a bank vault, Smith's notebooks are a private matter.
"I've always taken notes, although it hasn't been this much," Smith said. "Obviously, being a professional, you're going to have more. I plan on doing it every single year, because it really helps to be able to study those things in the off-season. We're not allowed to take our playbooks home, so to have that, to be able to go back and study is real good."
Players have to leave their playbooks at their teams' training facilities in the early part of the offseason as part of the collective bargaining agreement, which is designed to allow them to get mentally recharged. But Smith doesn't like to take much time off, and watches plenty of game tape when he's at home in south Florida. The notebooks come with him, too, and he scribbles more information on his off time.
"I wanted to study some things, and I've watched some tape that I wanted to go back on," he said. "It's kind of where you're coaching yourself and you want to critique yourself and go back on those things. Was my read correct? That kind of thing.
"It refreshes the mind," he said. "When I went back and watched the tape, I wanted to make sure I was looking at the right things and I was critiquing myself the right way, the way that Marty or Coach Lee would. So the best thing is to go back to the notes, because they're directly from Marty's mouth. When I went back and watched the tape, I can then say that this is the way it should be done or this is the way it shouldn't be done and correct those things. Having the information in the notebooks allows me to make sure I have everything down."
Being a student of the game doesn't guarantee Smith takes that next step in Year 2, but Smith has no doubt that knowledge is power when it comes to keeping a grip on his job. Especially with the quarterback he once looked up to as the most electrifying player in the NFL now in the same locker room and only a Smith slump away from taking over as the Jets' No. 1 quarterback.