FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Geno Smith may not be the Jets’ preferred choice at quarterback. But he’s out to prove he should be.
“Every player in the NFL, I think, deserves a fair opportunity,” he said in his first interview of the offseason, following Day 2 of OTAs on Wednesday. “And whether or not that’s the case, who knows? But I believe that I do have an opportunity here and I’ve just got to take advantage of it.”
The events of the past year — the infamous punch, the time spent healing from a broken jaw and his subsequent demotion in 2015 — hasn’t shaken his self-confidence, nor has the ongoing Ryan Fitzpatrick saga affected his focus.
Smith trotted on to the field as “the guy” on Wednesday, tossing perfect spirals and commanding the huddle with ease. It didn’t matter that the Jets’ two best weapons, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, and seven-time Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold were absent. On a field filled with backup receivers, and with backup quarterbacks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg looking on, Smith rarely missed a beat. His most impressive play came on a pretty deep-ball touchdown to Kenbrell Thompkins, who was blanketed in the end zone by cornerback Marcus Williams.
The fourth-year quarterback is at a pivotal juncture in his career. But he plans to approach it just the same. “From the day I walked in this building, I had that mindset,” Smith said. “So my mindset won’t change, ever. I’m going to continue to have that until my day is done.”
He stressed the importance of his own development, noting that he relishes being “a sponge” on and off the field. “The day that I stop learning will be probably the day I think too highly of myself,” said Smith, who is “mentally” ahead of where he was last year, according to offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
Asked if he’d be comfortable with Smith leading the offense, Gailey said, “We’re comfortable with whoever wins the job.”
But re-signing the 33-year-old Fitzpatrick has been the team’s priority since free agency began and Fitzpatrick’s teammates have long voiced their desire to see him back under center.
“I don’t really pay much attention to it,” said Smith, who lost his starting job after his jaw was broken in a locker room altercation with then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali on Aug. 11. “I don’t really want to talk about anyone else’s statements. I’ve just got to focus on myself and continue working on myself.”
He also said it “doesn’t rub me the wrong way” that Marshall and Decker have been vocal in their support of Fitzpatrick. “Well, I think they’ve always been supportive of myself as well,” Smith said. “We’re always supportive of one another and that’s just the way this locker room is. I don’t think that they’ve said anything negative about me. I do understand those guys — we all — had a wonderful year last year.”
Smith hasn’t let the awkwardness of the situation affect him. “Geno’s fine. He does what he always does,” said coach Todd Bowles, who remains “hopeful” that Fitzpatrick will re-sign. “It’s no different than a draft pick. They’re going to draft somebody at your position every year. If you’re worried about what’s behind you, you’re not going to see what’s in front of you.”
Asked about the speculation that Smith’s roster spot could be in danger if Fitzpatrick returns, Bowles laughed and said, “I didn’t know his roster spot was in jeopardy. Any one of those guys could be the starter depending on injuries. But I’m glad that you taught me something today.”
Smith, 25, insisted he’s not fighting for his so-called “NFL life.” Instead, he’s just looking to get better. “Every single player in this locker room, every player in the NFL’s goal is to be a starter, All-Pro player, ultimately a Hall of Famer. And that should be your goal,” he said, when asked if he views himself as the Week 1 starter.
He said he’s still in communication with Fitzpatrick, whom he called “a great guy. He’s not a ghost or anything,” he said, adding that he and his teammates “just appreciate what he was doing last year.”
But as the questions about Fitzpatrick and his own precarious position continued, Smith’s patience waned. Near the end of his 10-minute interview, he grew somewhat testy with one reporter who asked him if he wants Fitzpatrick to re-sign.
“That’s up to the front office and Ryan Fitzpatrick,” Smith said. “Why would I speak on that? Come on, man.”