While Jets hit new lows, Geno Smith says his confidence remains high
Geno Smith will run onto the field Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium as he always does, pointing his finger to the sky.
He'll be thinking about his late grandmother, the driving force behind his love of sports, and he'll be thanking God for another opportunity.
His faith is what keeps him grounded. His grandmother's high school diploma and identification card -- which he still keeps in his wallet -- keep him striving for greatness.
But Smith knows all too well that NFL chances don't last forever. There's always a new, more attractive option waiting to claim a player's spot.
He once was that guy -- the potential franchise quarterback who many assumed would be an upgrade over Mark Sanchez. But after his 26 games and four benchings in two seasons, there's a good chance that Smith's potential replacement will come in the form of a 2015 draft pick.
As the Jets (2-10) prepared for Sunday's road game against the Vikings, Smith maintained that his confidence is still "really sky high," added that he doesn't say things "to just say them" and reiterated that he's as self-assured as ever. But he also is determined to maintain a strong front for the media, no matter the circumstances.
"That's the goal. That's the key," Smith told Newsday. "In this media market, you never know. The honest truth is, we're all hurting. And that's obvious. But it's hard to, I would say, express those things without people saying, 'He's down on himself' or 'He can't lead this team.' Because either way, it can be taken out of context.
"So I think, just trying to exude the fact that, hey, we're not dead in the water. Although our record says that we can't go to the playoffs, we've got games left and we've got to go out there and execute."
His next test will be against the Vikings (5-7) and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami native who grew up playing against Smith in their home state of Florida and in college at Louisville and West Virginia, respectively.
Back in 2011, Louisville, led by Bridgewater, a freshman, stunned Smith's Mountaineers in a 38-35 road win. Smith threw for 410 yards and three touchdowns that day but couldn't bring West Virginia back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Bridgewater recalled the "great memory" of that upset during a conference call this past week and also spoke about the challenge of adjusting to the NFL. "The game is much faster," he said. "The mental and physical grind is totally different from the college level."
During his predraft process, Bridgewater worked out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where Smith trained. He made sure to pick his friend's brain.
"I just asked him what it's like to be a starting quarterback in the NFL," said Bridgewater, 22. "He would always tell me that it's a physical and mental grind, but at the end of the day, you just have to go out and play football."
Smith, 24, still is trying to navigate the grind of being an NFL quarterback. In front of the cameras, he explains that he's not putting extra pressure on himself, that he's not focusing on his future past the next game. But that's because he's careful not to let just anyone in.
"I believe in myself and I believe that I'm going to be a good player," he said. "At times you face adversity, and it's all about how you respond. A part of that is not letting anyone see you down or hang your head or not letting the guys around you see that. Of course, what we're going through is hard. But you can't allow that to affect the way that you lead."