They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. For Geno Smith, the path to success started out that way, but in the end may be more circuitous than we as WVU fans originally thought.
Leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, most Mountaineer fans had Smith tabbed as the best QB in the draft. A surefire Top-10 pick. He showed flashes during his WVU career of greatness, breaking school records on his way to joining the upper echelon of great passing quarterbacks in school history.
He went on to perform well at the combine that year and landed multiple private workouts with teams picking at the top of the draft. He had all the measurables one looks for in a potential franchise quarterback: the size, arm strength, passing accuracy, etc.
To us, he fate seemed sealed. We had a franchise quarterback in the making coming out of Morgantown.
Then something funny happened along the way. We watched him sit in the green room at Radio City Music Hall as the thirty-two picks of the first round came and went. At the end of the night, Smith went back to his hotel without having his name called.
What happened? What did they know about Smith that we didn’t?
He was eventually drafted by New York and went to the Jets. He ended up starting his rookie season after Mark Sanchez was injured during the preseason.
We as a Mountaineer fanbase were thrilled. However, we see the world through Gold and Blue colored glasses. It is sometimes difficult to see what is best for the player.
The truth is, Smith was never a top-tier QB no matter what we think. That is what NFL scouts, coaches and execs learned about Smith during the pre-draft process. Circumstances with Sanchez’s injury placed him in the starting lineup as a rookie. In the media pressure cooker that is New York, coming out and having the up and down seasons Smith had don’t cut it. Add to that the multiple off field maturation issues he had, and we begin to understand what the NFL scouts and coaches saw–or didn’t see–in Smith.
The truth is, Smith was picked right about where he should have been: with the seventh pick in the second round. The area where a team knows a quarterback is talented, but needs some seasoning before he’s ready. The opening day quarterbacks are the ones usually picked at the top of the draft, and sometimes even then coaches want for them to sit out a season before throwing them into the fire.
Smith should have had a redshirt season, but didn’t. Instead, he was thrown into a situation where he had to learn a completely different style of offense from what he knew at Miramar HS and at WVU. He had no playmakers to throw to and played behind a porous offensive line. He ran for his life those first two seasons and had little help to call upon.
Early in this past offseason, the Jets added those targets and a playmaker in the backfield. They bulked up the offensive line. They named Smith the starter, despite just having traded for veteran journeyman quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Smith came into training camp and showed improvement. He looked good in Chan Gailey’s new offense. Then, IK Enemkpali broke his jaw in a locker room incident. Without Smith, the Jets and Fitzpatrick played well and won their first two regular season games, the last being a big victory against Indianapolis on the road.
Two things happened earlier this week. One, Smith returned to practice ahead of schedule and could be active today. The second, Jets head coach Todd Bowles named Fitzpatrick the starter going forward relegating Smith to backup status for the first time in his career.
This is not necessarily a bad thing for Smith who says his jaw is now 100% healed. Now he gets to learn behind a vet like most second round and later quarterbacks have to do before being handed the reigns to a team.
Is he happy about his new place on the depth chart?
“You want to be out there. I’m not happy,” Smith said. “But it’s not one of those things where it’s going to change my approach, going to change the way I approach teammates or the way we go about our business. I’m not bitter about it. I understand why. I’m going to go out and keep supporting my teammates.”
Although he will need to bide his time before stepping onto the field again, he sees learning how from the 11-year veteran Fitzpatrick can be an asset.
“Fitz has been awesome,” Smith said. “He’s a great guy to learn from. Having him as an asset is wonderful because I can learn from him. That’s what I’m doing right now.
“Obviously, as a competitor I’d love to be out there competing with my guys. But you’ve got to understand the decision was made and it’s out of my control.”
The next words he said might lead one to believe Smith is already looking forward in his career, perhaps someplace else.
“I’m going to control the things I can control which is being a great teammate and continue to lead the guys even from the back and once I do get the chance whether it happens here or wherever I’m ready.”