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Jets' offseason plan was to build around Geno Smith

Jets quarterback Geno Smith was involved in an

Jets quarterback Geno Smith was involved in an incident at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 17, 2014 and left a flight bound for Fort Lauderdale after a verbal exchange with a flight attendant. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Jets had a plan.

Sign Eric Decker. Bring in Michael Vick. Add Chris Johnson.

It was all done by design, and proof of a lesson learned after a series of debacles and massive miscalculations.

For a quarterback to be successful, his general manager must build around him. And if all goes according to plan, Geno Smith will reap the rewards of John Idzik's roster moves.

Gone are the days when publicity meant more than playing ability at One Jets Drive. It's back to basics for Idzik & Co., and that begins with helping their young quarterback succeed.

By adding playmakers Johnson and Decker and Vick to an already stout defensive front seven, the Jets have put Smith in a position to thrive. And that hasn't always been the case with their quarterbacks.

"When you think about the Tim Tebow situation with Mark Sanchez and all of that -- that was a disaster,'' former Jets coach-turned-ESPN analyst Herm Edwards told Newsday. "That was a disaster waiting to happen.''

The Jets traded up to take Sanchez fifth overall in the 2009 NFL draft, and before long, the moniker "Sanchize'' was born. But in the course of his five-year career, the front office systematically dismantled the roster around him.

Those moves, coupled with Sanchez's poor decision-making, crippled a franchise that had shown so much promise in Rex Ryan's first two seasons. After back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game, the Jets have missed the playoffs the last three seasons.

But they have learned their lesson, Edwards said. And Smith will be better for it.

The Jets finally have returned to the system that worked so well during the first few years Ryan and Sanchez spent together -- one that relied heavily on a standout defense and a strong running game and, more importantly, didn't require too much from its young starting quarterback.

Problems arose when the Jets strayed from that formula. And the more Sanchez felt pressured to throw the football, the more that put him "in a bind,'' Edwards said.

"Because he wasn't that guy,'' he said. "That's not in his DNA. When he was at USC, that wasn't his DNA. His first two seasons with the Jets, that wasn't his DNA. So now all of a sudden, he gets exposed, the defense suffers because he turned the ball over, they don't run it as good as they'd like to, and now he's a guy that's all of a sudden playing out of his comfort zone.

"But now they go back to who they are, and Geno Smith can be a better quarterback for it.''

Quarterbacks coach David Lee has spoken at length about Smith doing too much as a rookie last season. After an impromptu run or a costly turnover, Smith often would explain that taking over ballgames was what he had grown accustomed to doing when he played for West Virginia. When the game was on the line and he and his fellow Mountaineers were trailing, Smith felt compelled to take matters into his own hands.

But no longer does he have to carry an offense by himself.

Edwards -- who coached the Jets to a 39-41 record from 2001-05 before coaching the Kansas City Chiefs for three seasons -- said the combination of Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell in the backfield will take the pressure off Smith, just as the Jets' running game once did for Sanchez.

"Geno's back in a position where he doesn't have to be a volume thrower. He has to be like a Russell Wilson, he has to be like a Colin Kaepernick,'' Edwards said, noting that Wilson averaged only 25 passes a game last season on his way to a Super Bowl championship and that Kaepernick averaged 26 throws. " . . . This offense is set for him to have success. So I think they learned that as an organization.''

And each day the Jets continue to learn more about Smith.

His teammates now see a different man in the huddle. So do his coaches. But more importantly, he sees a difference in himself.

"I did a lot of self-evaluation. I'm fully aware of who I am and what I am capable of,'' Smith said after the Jets' 35-24 preseason loss to the Giants. "But like I said, I lean on my teammates and coaches. They're the reason why I have gotten better because they push me every single day. And having a guy like Michael Vick to mentor me and help me get better is paying off.''

Unlike Tebow, the Jets trust Vick with their offense and trust him to win games. They also see him as someone who can push Smith and guide him in the meeting rooms and on the sideline.

Ryan and Lee have raved about their quarterback situation. So has offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who spent several years with Vick during their Philly days.

"He's been great for Geno,'' Lee said of Vick, 34. "They get along just really well and they trust each other. [Vick's] done nothing but enhance Geno's chances of being a better pro quarterback . . . I've got two talented guys in that room and it's fun to come to work every day.''

But there was never a doubt among the coaches that this is Smith's team.

"Geno's our starting quarterback -- Week 1 or whatever,'' Ryan said recently. "For me, the last month of the [2013] season started the upward trend of the type of quarterback we feel Geno Smith can be . . . And he's still not where he wants to be, so that's exciting to me.''

The expectations are high for Smith in his second year. But Edwards is quick to point out one simple fact about the NFL. "You've still got to score points by throwing the football -- whether you like it or not,'' he said, laughing. "The league is about this: you run to win, you pass to score.''

Only time will tell if Smith can handle the reins for another 16 games. But for now, the offense appears headed in the right direction.

"He knows the type of system that Rex wants to run, because he lived it,'' Edwards said of Idzik, who worked in Tampa Bay's front office while Edwards was the team's assistant head coach and defensive backs coach from 1996-2000. The Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2002.

"John Idzik was with us in Tampa. He lived that system,'' Edwards said.

"So he gets it.''

New York Sports