Jets fans who tune in to the Giants game Friday night may not recognize Geno Smith.
And not only because he’ll be wearing a different uniform.
The onetime starter, onetime backup, onetime savior and onetime bust with the Jets — yes, he crammed all of that into a four-year stint — will make his Big Blue debut against the Steelers at MetLife Stadium in the preseason opener. It’s something he has been working toward since last October, when he tore his ACL, ending his season and tenure with the Jets.
Smith will step back onto the field, he insisted, a better quarterback than he left it.
Physically, he said he can do “probably more” than he was able to do before the knee injury.
“I’m in better shape,” he said. “Having a knee injury, you don’t have time to take a break, so I’m in better shape, my body feels better. My weight is up but my body fat is down.”
He won’t even be wearing a brace on his reconstructed knee.
“I’m one of those guys who is just fearless about it,” he said.
His arm certainly hasn’t gotten weaker.
“Not at all,” he said. “Stronger. Definitely.”
Mentally, he’s not the wide-eyed player he was when he threw 21 interceptions as a rookie and had the label of sloppiness stuck to him.
“I learned from those mistakes and this is four years later, so I should be better,” he said. “I am better. I’m smarter, I understand it and I see it better. That just comes with getting more reps and getting a better feel for the NFL game.”
Perhaps most importantly, his psyche seems renewed.
“I’m going to go out there and cut it loose like I know how and give it everything I got,” he said.
Asked if this feels like Chapter Two of his story, Smith shook his head.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s still Chapter One. Still working and still getting better. It’s not that kind of thing for me. I’m always focused on football, I don’t look at the outside storylines or anything like that. This is a game that I love, I enjoy playing it, and I know that the ups and downs come with it.”
He should have plenty of opportunity to show this New Geno on Friday. Eli Manning is not expected to play, and rookie Davis Webb will be limited in what he can do. That leaves the bulk of the snaps for Smith and Josh Johnson, who are competing for the backup job.
Ben McAdoo did not say who will start Friday, which means it will likely be the first clear indication of how the coaching staff views that camp battle. In practices Smith and Johnson have taken turns working with the second and third teams.
Smith has looked good at times in camp, a little off at others. That’s to be expected from a player learning a new offense and coming off an injury.
“Every day I’m learning something new and getting better with the operation, with exactly what Coach Mac wants,” Smith said. “That’s something that’s important, understanding what the coach wants, how he wants it done, and being able to go out there and execute.”
On Friday, he gets to go out and execute at the place he once called his home stadium — and hopes to continue to. He’ll be on a different sideline and in a different locker room. He’ll have to turn right when he walks in through the doors.
“I’m sure once I get to the stadium, put on the new uniform and walk out for the first time as a Giant, it’ll be different,” he said.
He’ll be different, too, he seems to think. Though maybe not as different as expected.
“They’ll recognize me,” Smith said of Jets fans, downplaying how dramatic his improvements are so as not to diminish his performance in green. “That’s a misconception. They’ve seen me play, they’ve seen me play well.”
They’ll see him play Friday, and both Giants and Jets fans can judge for themselves.