There is a new uniform, a new number and a renewed sense of purpose. For former Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who has gone from Jets green to Giants blue and No. 7 to No. 3, it is a new beginning for a quarterback with one thing that hasn’t changed: resilience.
It therefore is entirely appropriate that his story of redemption continues two years to the day after the locker-room punch that changed his career.
On Aug. 11, 2015, Smith was slugged by then-Jets linebacker IK Enemkpali over a dispute about a $600 airplane ticket. Smith suffered a broken jaw and started only one more game for the Jets in the next two seasons.
On Aug. 11, 2017, he will make his debut for the Giants in their preseason opener against the Steelers at MetLife Stadium. It is the stadium he once called home with the Jets and the place where he hopes to resurrect a career that began with such promise.
Smith got his second chance with the Jets during last year’s rocky season after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Cinderella ride finally ended with a series of poor early-season performances. Smith, however, suffered a season-ending knee injury not even two quarters into his first start since 2014.
But here he is, his knee stable and his disposition strengthened by the challenges of his recovery.
“Looking forward to it, being my first game since last October,” Smith said. “It’ll be fun. We’re going to go out there and cut it loose, play like I know how and just give it everything I got.”
There certainly are no guarantees for Smith with his new team, and he still must prove he can beat out Josh Johnson for the No. 2 job behind ironman Eli Manning, who hasn’t missed a start since taking over midway through his rookie season in 2004. That makes Smith’s preseason performance all the more meaningful, because even if he does make the team, he might not see the field in the regular season unless Manning gets hurt.
Smith has put “the punch” in his personal rearview mirror and prefers not to dwell on that unfortunate incident, which changed the trajectory of his career in an instant.
Smith, who had performed well during offseason practices, began training camp in 2015 as the Jets’ starter and did well early in camp. Before the locker-room incident, which was precipitated by Enemkpali’s anger at Smith for not flying in for the linebacker’s youth football camp and his unwillingness to pay for the unused ticket, Smith felt he was ready to take a significant step forward.
But the broken jaw kept him out of the lineup for the next two months, and Fitzpatrick filled in brilliantly in what turned out to be a career year. Even after Fitzpatrick’s months-long contract impasse last year, during which Smith was reinstated as the Jets’ starter, it was back to Fitzpatrick when he signed a one-year deal on the eve of training camp.
Unfortunately for the Jets, he proved to be a one-year wonder, and by the time Smith was given his next chance to start, the season was effectively over. Then he suffered the knee injury against the Ravens, and that was it.
Now he has another chance. Smith understands that without an opportunity to be a starter with the Giants, he must do things differently. But that’s how it works sometimes in this league. Hang around long enough and things can work out — but only if you’re willing to accept your circumstances and bide your time, which Smith obviously is willing to do.
“I’m always focused on football,” he said. “I don’t look at outside storylines, any of that. This is a game that I love. I enjoy playing it, and I know that the ups and downs, they just come with it.”
There already have been plenty of ups and downs, and Smith remains hopeful this next phase is headed in a positive direction. He’s still young at 26, and with time on his side, the journey continues.
Two years after his worst moment, his next chance at redemption is upon him.