FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - There was nowhere for Geno Smith to go. The pressure was coming, and before the Jets quarterback could even react, he felt the ball slip from his fingers.
After four turnover-free days during team drills, Smith held onto the football for far too long and was strip-sacked by lineman Leger Douzable late in Tuesday's practice. "I just have to protect the ball better, that's about it,'' Smith said.
It's the same refrain he uttered the past two seasons, in which he's shown progress and regression. But Smith said he plans to make far fewer mistakes in Chan Gailey's offense.
"I think maturity plays a big part of it,'' said Smith, who is 11-18 as a starter and has committed 41 turnovers. "Being that I have a bunch of experience, good and bad, I've been able to see a lot. I've been able to learn from a lot. I feel a lot more comfortable with myself in the pocket and standing back there and seeing things.
"But the system is great. It allows us to play fast, it allows us to see the defense and get the ball out quick because we have so many answers.''
But the addition of big-body playmaker Brandon Marshall to complement the reliable Eric Decker and shifty slot receiver Jeremy Kerley will be of little help if Smith can't read defenses or is reckless with the ball.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie believes he's seen a change for the better in Smith. "He's not turning the ball over as much in practice,'' said Cromartie, who was a Jet during Smith's rookie season before playing last year in Arizona. "I think he's trying to make the right reads and he's getting the ball out quicker.''
Unlike his first year in the league, Smith is carrying himself "more as a pro,'' Cromartie said. "I think you don't see those moments you saw his rookie year in camp, or maybe last year, where he would get slumped or get frustrated with certain things.''
Aside from the strip-sack Tuesday, coach Todd Bowles said he's been pleased with what he's seen from Smith.
"It was just a bad decision. It was his first turnover of camp,'' he said. "You don't blow it out of proportion, but you talk about it and you recognize it. He's got to let the ball fly. He just can't sit there and hold it.''
Smith brushed off the turnover, noting that in practice "other guys aren't supposed to swipe at the ball, but I let that one get away from me.'' He also said he's not feeling "as rushed'' in the pocket.
"I feel like I know the timing of when things should develop and when to get the ball out of my hands,'' he said, adding that the verbiage in Gailey's system isn't as long as West Coast phrases. "And if it's not there, knowing that taking care of the football is first things first.''
Of course, all that sounds good, but the real test will be here soon (the Jets' preseason opener is Aug. 13 at Detroit). Bowles will need to see continued improvement from Smith and the rest of his offense.
"They made some throws,'' Bowles said of his quarterbacks, also noting that rookie Bryce Petty had two interceptions and some overthrows Tuesday.
"Sometimes the rush got there and affected it. We didn't block as well as we did the past two days. It was all-inclusive. We made some mistakes on defense, but we were sloppy on offense.''