FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Eric Decker wants the Geno Smith haters to lay off.
In a phone interview with Newsday on Friday morning, the Jets star receiver came to the defense of his third-year quarterback and cautioned fans against being unnecessarily critical.
"It's frustrating because I see him working on a daily basis,'' Decker said of Smith. "If he was a guy that didn't put in the work, didn't care about getting better and doing the right thing and caring about his teammates, then I wouldn't care as much. No one really understands what goes on behind closed doors during the week and stuff -- the preparation, the work put in from everyone.
"So to paint somebody or to say (negative) things like that, they just don't know. I'd like to see them in his shoes or our shoes, period. Obviously, this is entertainment, people pay to see us play, people are really invested, and I respect that . . . but just understand that this guy is a normal guy who's trying to do his best. Why have such hateful thoughts?''
Many Jets fans seem ready to give up on Smith after his two mediocre NFL in which he is 11-18 as a starter with a .575 career completion percentage. And as Thursday's first round of the draft drew near, some draft experts believed the Jets should have aggressively tried to move up from the No. 6 spot to the second overall pick, to have a shot at taking Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Instead, the Jets stayed at No. 6 and wound up with the steal of the draft: USC defensive end Leonard Williams.
Decker said he understands why some thought the Jets should be interested in Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner, but he quickly added: "I think Geno has the same skill set as a Mariota.''
Decker also said that Smith has "become even better than what he was last year at this point'' after working in Chan Gailey's new system.
The receiver stressed that it takes time for young quarterbacks to develop in the NFL, and Smith is no exception. Decker also highlighted the fact that Gailey is the third offensive coordinator Smith has had since 2013 (and the fourth for the Jets since 2011). "I've been through it in college, I had a new coach every year and in the NFL, this is my fourth offense,'' said Decker, who was in Manhattan with his wife, singer Jessie James Decker, for the launch of "Paw It Forward,'' a program designed to encourage pet owners to spend more quality time with their pets and to help other pets in need. (The Deckers, who have two golden retrievers named Jake and Jenny, are encouraging people to visit PureLoveForPets.com to learn more about the cause and to make donations.)
"I just have to learn my position when the quarterback has to learn everyone's position, so it's definitely a tough transition,'' Decker said. "I think decision-making is going to be (Smith's) biggest thing. He has the skill set, he can throw the ball very good, he can move in the pocket. It's just about making the right decision and I think he understands that now. So he's going to work on it and study tape more and hopefully learn a lot from (veteran quarterback) Ryan Fitzpatrick.''
The Jets front office may be comfortable entering training camp with a Smith and Fitzpatrick quarterback battle. But general manager Mike Maccagnan may choose to take a QB in Rounds 2 or 3 Friday night -- possibly Baylor's Bryce Hundley or UCLA's Brett Hundley.
As for Williams, Decker is looking forward to see the former Trojan terrorize quarterbacks this season. "From what I've seen and heard, he's a good football player so he'll be a good addition,'' said Decker, who watched the first round with Jets fans at an NFL draft party Thursday night.
So, can this Jets defense -- featuring Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and now Williams -- be the best in the NFL?
"The opportunity is there,'' Decker said. "We've got, defensively, some of the best football players on our team. I think the philosophy that Coach (Todd) Bowles is bringing defensively will also allow us to be very aggressive and to be one of the best.
"On paper we look fantastic. Now they just have to translate that on to the field and become what we talk about.''