Geno Smith is hanging on in his attempt to earn a roster spot with the Giants after a four-year run with the Jets, and his chances might very well come down to how things go against his former team.
With no guarantee that Smith will beat out Josh Johnson for the job of backing up Eli Manning, it could be a make-or-break opportunity Saturday night in the annual Giants-Jets preseason game.
“Obviously, going against your old team, you may have a few emotions here and there, but I think I’ll be able to manage it well,” said Smith, who hasn’t been told how long he’ll play against the Jets. In the final tuneup for most of the starters before the regular season opens Sept. 10, he most likely will play in the second half after Manning gets his most extensive playing time of the preseason.
It has been a modest preseason for Smith, who is attempting to come back from a knee ligament tear suffered in his only start last season. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in two games and has two interceptions, including one near the goal line in Monday’s 10-6 loss to the Browns. The pick came after he led a nice drive from the Giants’ 30-yard line to inside the 5.
That’s the kind of sequence Jets fans became all too familiar with during much of Smith’s time in green and white, and a major reason the Jets gave up on Smith when his contract expired after last season. He signed a one-year deal with the Giants, and his only hope to stick is to beat out Johnson, because third-round pick Davis Webb is a lock to make the roster.
There’s no question Smith has more talent and a bigger arm than Johnson, but Smith’s turnover issues — 36 interceptions in four seasons as a Jet — remain a concern.
“Taking care of the ball would be an important part of being on this team, yes,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “I think he is picking up the offense. He is working hard at it. He gets football. He throws a nice, catchable ball and he completes a lot of balls, so we just have to eliminate the negative plays.”
Smith believes that he is up to the task. Getting the job done against his old team would make it that much sweeter.
“I have a lot of great respect for a lot of people in that organization and I appreciated my time there,’’ he said, “but now it’s just focusing on going out there and executing on game day.”
He said he harbors no ill will toward the Jets. There were some difficult moments, though. The worst came on Aug. 11, 2015, when linebacker IK Enemkpali punched Smith in the jaw after the quarterback refused to reimburse him for an airline ticket to Enemkpali’s football camp, which Smith didn’t attend.
Smith said his memories of his time with the Jets are mostly good, though.
“Honestly, just being in the locker room with the guys, just being with the guys,” he said. “All those guys, guys who are still there, like [Mo Wilkerson], some guys who are gone like [Nick] Mangold. A couple of guys that were on the team my rookie year.
“We built some great bonds and became more than just teammates, we became friends. And I think that was something really special.”
Smith takes with him many of the lessons he learned with the Jets.
“A lot about overall leadership and just understanding perspective,” he said. “I was able to get out there and play early on, and I think that real ly helped me out a bunch because I gained a bunch of experience. I’m not wide-eyed or anything. When I go out on the field, I understand what it’s about and I just try to make the best of it.”
He’ll need to make the best of it Saturday night against his old team. It may be his last chance to stick with his new one.