FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - No longer does David Lee have to hold his breath.
The change in Geno Smith's demeanor and play is evident to everyone at One Jets Drive. And that change is the main reason Lee isn't concerned about the second-year quarterback's adjustment to the NFL.
"He has command of the offense, which he didn't a year ago,'' Lee, the Jets' quarterbacks coach, said Tuesday after practice.
Not only has Smith grasped the offense of coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but he also has impressed the coaches with his pocket poise and ability to read defenses better.
Smith's footwork "has been almost immaculate,'' Lee said, and he also has shown that running with the football is officially part of his repertoire.
But Lee has been most impressed with Smith's ability to protect the football.
"That's probably been the No. 1 most encouraging thing,'' Lee said. "And that'll be the biggest turnaround thing for us if he just takes care of the ball.''
Getting to this point, however, has been difficult for both coach and quarterback.
Lee has seen a lot of quarterbacks come and go in his 10 years in the NFL. Prior to joining the Jets last season, he never had been charged with preparing a rookie to start the entire season. But that's exactly what he was faced with in 2013 when the Jets appointed Smith as their starter and Matt Simms, who had no regular-season starts on his resume, as the backup.
"So we come in there with he and Matt as No. 1 and No. 2 against Tampa Bay [in Week 1] and we're holding our breath,'' Lee said. "We've got two rookies here fixing to do this whole thing for 16 weeks.''
Smith struggled mightily during November. In three games against the Saints, Bills and Ravens, he completed only 39.06 percent of his passes (25-for-64, 345 yards) with no touchdowns and five interceptions. But he finished the season on a strong note: From Weeks 14-17, Smith had an 83.6 quarterback rating, a .586 completion percentage, four TDs and two interceptions.
Lee said he began to see positive changes in Smith's game starting in late November, adding that he took better care of the ball. And the more Smith played, the more confidence he showed, the coach said. Smith had a .558 completion percentage last season and threw for 3,046 yards, 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
"So late in the year, you started to see him really play quarterback the way we wanted him to play quarterback,'' Lee said.
He explained that the volume of plays Smith had to learn was overwhelming and that he occasionally "overthought'' things.
"His eyes were everywhere,'' Lee said.
But no longer is Smith trying to win games all by himself.
Although that tactic worked wonders for him at West Virginia, it backfired in the NFL, Lee said.
But now the team is eager to see what Smith has in store in Year 2.
His teammates often rave about his decision-making and his "swagger.'' And so does Lee.
"He even walks through the building with more confidence, more command,'' he said of the 23-year-old. "He's not cocky, he's a humble kid. But, boy, he's a confident quarterback right now at this point in time.''