Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley celebrates a second-quarter touchdown against...

Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley celebrates a second-quarter touchdown against the Chicago Bears during a game at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 22, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

Two lockers down from where Geno Smith was surrounded by reporters asking about his latest struggles, Jeremy Kerley, his voice barely above a whisper, offered unwavering support for the Jets' embattled quarterback. And no, this wasn't your typical default reaction of one teammate defending another from an onslaught of criticism, the kind you see in most locker rooms when a quarterback is in a protracted slump.

This was heartfelt and genuine, something Kerley fervently believes, and he thinks Smith will emerge from his troubles better off for the experience.

"There's no question in my mind, no doubt that he'll get through this,'' Kerley said Wednesday. "He's stayed the course pretty well, overcoming adversity, just being levelheaded through everything.''

That includes atoning for mistakes, even the one after Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Lions, when Smith lost his cool and swore at fans who were heckling him as he came off the field. He apologized in his postgame news conference, and he apologized to his teammates in a players-only meeting Monday.

"He said something. He realized he made a mistake, so he apologized for it to us,'' Kerley said. "We moved on from there.''

Kerley has become one of Smith's confidants in their brief time together. On the field, he leads the Jets with 16 catches; off the field, he calls Smith his closest friend on the team. Kerley said he felt a certain chemistry almost immediately after Smith joined the Jets as a second-round pick last year.

"When he first came in, something clicked,'' Kerley said. "He's my best friend. He's a good dude, and I don't call a lot of people my friends. I take pride in calling him my friend, and not just with football.''

There are other Jets who feel similarly about Smith. Defensive end Sheldon Richardson, another member of the 2013 draft class, echoed Kerley about Smith's loyalty to teammates. Those feelings of solidarity will go a long way toward correcting the issues Smith faces, especially as he hears the calls for Michael Vick to replace him.

"Geno is that guy that you want to play for,'' said Kerley, a converted quarterback who led the Jets in receiving the last two seasons. "He can extend plays, he's consistent with the ball, he's got great touch. The guys around him respect him, and that's important.''

But Kerley knows the only way for Smith to answer his critics is with a series of solid performances and help the Jets rebound from a 1-3 start. "I definitely believe he'll do it,'' he said.

As Kerley defended him, Smith bristled when a reporter asked if there would be any value to playing Vick for a quarter in a game.

"I don't know what you're trying to lead to with that question,'' Smith said. "Maybe that's your opinion. That is not a question.''

Could Vick provide a spark?

"As a spark?'' Smith said. "What do you mean, a spark? We've already put him in .''

When asked again about playing Vick for a quarter, Smith said, "It doesn't make sense. What team do you see doing that?''

OK, so the starter doesn't like the idea of ceding time to the backup. Quite frankly, if Smith were comfortable with the idea of playing Vick more, I'd be worried. That Smith is basically saying this is his team and his offense is a healthy sign, not one that should be interpreted that the pressure is getting to him.

If your No. 1 quarterback thinks it's a good idea for someone else to play, well, that's a problem.

Unless and until Rex Ryan says it's someone else's team, then Smith is the guy. And the players closest to him are fine with it.

"We believe in Geno, no question,'' Kerley said. "He can get it done, no doubt.''

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