The criticisms of Geno Smith were well-documented. But the Jets needed to see the West Virginia quarterback for themselves. And once they did, they were sold.
New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, new quarterbacks coach David Lee and two area scouts traveled to Morgantown to get a better sense of Geno Smith, the football player and person. And the hours spent over dinner with Smith the night before his pro day ultimately helped solidify the QB’s placement on their draft board.
“That was an important deal there,” Mornhinweg said of their shared meal. “In my mind, I wanted to get to know the man. We certainly talked quite a little bit of football at dinner. And then the next day, he had his pro day. And he did do an excellent job.”
Mornhinweg quickly learned that Smith was “an impressive young man,” but the coordinator needed to see more: mainly the QB’s accuracy downfield. The Jets contingent also used their time in Morgantown to talk to Smith’s coaches and his teammates in hopes of getting a better read on him.
“But,” said Mornhinweg, “you still go back to the production on film.”
Much has been made about Smith’s perceived deficiencies – not just in the passing game – but also his personality and maturity level. He’s been criticized for not being tough enough, especially in cold-weather games, and for not possessing the requisite skills to be a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL. But Smith has no doubt he can succeed at this level. And neither do the Jets.
“My goal is to be a franchise quarterback,” Smith said at his introductory press conference Saturday. “But as of now there's a lot of work to be done, I’ve got to handle my playbook, I’ve got to get into the weight room and start preparing myself for training camp right now.”
When asked about his detractors, Smith replied matter-of-factly: “Critics don't have a pick. And the only thing that matters now is the Jets selected me.”
Smith also said he was lucky to have “a tremendous amount of freedom” while at West Virginia. “The coaches and the rest of the staff really trusted me with the offense, week in and week out I was a part of putting together the game plans,” he said. “I think it helped me grow over the course of the last two years.”
For John Idzik and his personnel department, though, much is riding on this decision. The organization traded its first- and second-round selections in 2009, plus three players, in order to select Mark Sanchez fifth overall. And just four years later, he’s one of six quarterbacks hoping to get the starting gig football in Week 1.
Richmond-based scout Michael Davis -- who made the trip to Morgantown – said he had no reservations about putting his reputation on the line for Smith.
“That’s my job. That’s what I do,” he said. “…Hey, I have no problem with that. I think he’s worth it. I think our organization (feels that way). It wasn’t just me. We did it as an organization. We all felt good about it, we talked it through, and we’re glad to have him.”
Mornhinweg called Saturday “a quite exciting time on offense” with the selections of Smith and former Kent State guard Brian Winters and the trade for running back Chris Ivory.
“We’ve got a quarterback that’s got outstanding skill and ability, we got a lineman, Winters, who is a tough, physical man out of Kent State. He should be just excellent for us. We really like him, we were evaluating all the players in the draft. And then, of course, we traded for Ivory out of New Orleans,” the coordinator said.
“Now, this man is a physical, physical runner. He’ll mix it just beautifully, I think, with some of the dynamic ability that we have in the backfield currently.”
Though Mornhinweg believes six quarterbacks will raise the level of competition, he’s acutely aware of how tricky a situation this is. “We talked about that just a little bit as far as reps. I know you can do it with three, now there's got to come a time where you need to make a choice, the timing is important as well.
“So everything we do is important. It's got to be very well thought out and very well planned.”