Geno Smith received a reprieve when the interception he threw on his first pass attempt during team drills was nullified by an offside penalty on the defense. But on the next play, Muhammad Wilkerson was waiting for him.
The Jets quarterback rolled out after the snap and aired the ball to his left, but Wilkerson’s big hands batted the ball away from its intended target.
“Not today, Geno! Not today!” Wilkerson shouted to the delight of the defense.
It was a sign of things to come, in a way, as both Smith and Mark Sanchez struggled to hit their receivers during Wednesday’s OTA.
“First of all, that’s Mo,” Smith said, when asked about the Wilkerson play. “He’s a great player. He’s one of the best defensive tackles, I think in my opinion in the league. He flies around. You’ll see that guy, I’ll scramble and break the pocket, and he’s right there on my trail. I set up to throw and he’s athletic enough to jump and bat it down. He makes it difficult on all of us. It’s just good to have guys like that out there competing and just welcoming me into the NFL.”
At this stage of the offseason, it’s not surprising that Rex Ryan’s defense is ahead of an offense still trying to feels its way through Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast system. But Smith said there’s a benefit to facing the type of speed and athleticism Ryan has at his disposal.
“Being able to see guys like Mo, Antwan Barnes, Quinton Coples, Sheldon Richardson, great cornerbacks like Cro (Antonio Cromartie), all of these guys out there on defense. They’re vets, they know what they are doing,” said the rookie quarterback. “They come to compete daily. I think that really helps the team.”
With mounting injuries to the receiving corps, neither Smith nor Sanchez were in sync with the offense during their red-zone drills. But miscues are to be expected this early in the offseason, Sanchez said.
“Any time you do red zone in practice, it’s not like a game where you’ve game-planned and you’re ready for these specific looks and, ‘Boom’ it’s either wide open or it’s not and we’re kicking field goals, scoring points and feeling good no matter what,” said the fourth-year QB. “Against our defense, they’ll troubleshoot your protections, they’ll make you get to your check-downs, they’ll force you to throw the ball away at times. So, we’re really just working on our timing and then reacting to what they’re doing, instead of really game-planning for something.
“So, in an 18-play period, if you score a couple times and you have to throw the ball away, well, you just have to make the right decision and understand that you’re throwing the ball away more than you really would in a game.”
Sanchez has been particularly vocal about his progress heading into next week’s minicamp, while Smith has remained somewhat understated. Asked to measure his progress thus far, the rookie QB said: “First of all it’s just bringing it to practice, coming to practice ready to compete, coming to practice focused, ready to go. Taking advantage of every single rep, mental reps even when I’m not in. Just learning from every single experience.
“Obviously, the coaches are going to do the grading but you have pretty much the knowledge of where you did good, where you did bad. I mean every quarterback, every player has that. Once you get into the film room Coach (David) Lee, Coach Mornhinweg they do a great job relaying messages to us. Letting us know, ‘Hey, you need to do better here.’ Maybe speed my feet up here, maybe get the ball out quicker here. Every single day is a learning experience and really that’s how I grade myself.”
With next week’s three-day minicamp on the horizon, the competition between him and Sanchez is bound to heat up.
“Every single day in practice we compete hard,” Smith said. “Not just on team periods, but it’s in walk-throughs. It’s in individual periods, it’s in everything. That’s the nature of the game. It’s just good to have a guy like Mark who’s welcome to teaching me things. He’s open to the competition. He’s great spirited about it. It really allows us to get along off the field, but on the field still compete and still fight for the job.”