Last season was a learning experience for both Geno Smith and his quarterbacks coach David Lee.
For the first time in 10 years of NFL coaching, Lee was presented with a “true” rookie starter. And the transition wasn’t always easy -- for both student and teacher.
“It’s hard for all of us, especially his coach,” Lee said with a laugh. “I mean it was a new world every week. It was something with the feet, or something with a decision, or late on throws, or this is a ball you’ve got to drive in (and) that is a ball, you’ve got to put touch on. And there’s a tremendous volume of plays that are all new. He has no background to go say, ‘I did this last year.’ He didn’t do it the year before. It was a tough year, there were some tough weeks and we had some gut checks, but hey, he came through it.
“I’ll tell you, he’s tough and the guy’s calm. Nothing shakes him up much. That’s a real good quality to have too.”
Despite Smith's midseason struggles, he rebounded and helped lead the Jets to an 8-8 finish. And Lee’s already seen growth in his young QB this offseason.
“We’re not playing yet, we’re not in the stadium yet, people aren’t in the stands, but Geno, he’s a strongly improved player at this point,” he said.
Things began clicking for Smith in early December, according to Lee, and the young QB dedicated himself to improving his game as soon as the 2013 season ended.
“It goes all the way back with him to last winter,” Lee explained. “He was down in Florida sending me text pictures of himself running up and down hills with a parachute behind him. He’s just faster. He’s faster than he was. His body’s stronger….He’s been in that weight room, so physically he’s gotten faster, he’s gotten stronger, he’s lost body fat. When you do all that your mind (is) right and his mind’s been right.
"He’s taught a lot of football, he’s worked hard on pass protection. We looked at all the things that were negative last year from sacks, to interceptions, to fumbles and how can we improve them. I’ve been really pleased with his progress.”
And Smith has already starting showing that he can make better decisions on the practice field and be an even better leader in the huddle.
“You see a guy’s making better decisions because the ball’s coming out of his hands so much faster than it has been in the past,” Lee said. “He knows the offense so well, he now knows where everybody is when things break down and he has to move or scramble.”
“…Watching him lead, it’s a natural thing. He’s not forcing anything,” the coach explained. “…(He’s) a guy we drafted in the second round coming out and the arm talent that he’s got, his accuracy has improved. He’s just gotten better and better.”