Why Jets QB Geno Smith Should Ride the Bench as a Rookie

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Why Jets QB Geno Smith Should Ride the Bench as a Rookie
USA TODAY Sports

Sometime during quarterback Geno Smith's long and stressful wait to be drafted, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sent him a conciliatory message on Twitter:

Smith should take that draft day advice and apply it to his future as a starting NFL quarterback. He may not earn it immediately, but it will happen when the time is right.

Now that the New York Jets have drafted him, they should also heed those words. There's no need to rush him onto the field.

Four years ago, the Jets were breaking in their new franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez. Several bad decisions were made, both on the field by Sanchez and the coaching staff, and off the field by the Jets front office. Ultimately, Sanchez's development went down the tubes.

This time, the future of the franchise does not lie with "the Sanchize," but instead with a young man who saw his dreams of being drafted in the first round dashed at the hands of 29 teams—one of which just happened to be the Jets.

Thus, it seems even the Jets know he's not ready to start immediately. If they thought he was a Day 1 starter like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, they probably wouldn't have passed on him twice in the first round.

There are plenty of other reasons the Jets should not rush to judgment on their new young quarterback.

 

Put the Pieces in Place

With regard to his supporting cast, Geno Smith is going from riches to rags.

Between Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Noel Devine, Geno was surrounded by talent at West Virginia from the beginning.

The Jets, however, are a few wrenches short of a tool kit.  

That's not to say that Smith can't be successful running an offense with less talent than the Mountaineers had last year, but why ask him to throw to a lower tier of receivers while facing a higher tier of competition? They could just as easily wait to get a better view of where things stand at receiver.

Jeremy Kerley is talented, and showed a lot of improvement and potential last year with a team-leading 56 catches, 827 yards and two touchdowns, but there are question marks elsewhere.

Stephen Hill was considered raw coming out of Georgia Tech and showed just how raw he was in 2012 (six drops, dropped 22.2 percent of catchable passes, according to Pro Football Focus). If he develops his route-running and concentration, he could be great. If not, the Jets lack any outside options at receiver with size.

The Jets will get Santonio Holmes back from injury after the seven-year veteran went down with a Lisfranc injury in Week 4 of the 2012 season. He restructured his deal back in mid-March, but he could very well become a salary cap casualty following the 2013 season if he does not appear to be the same player he was before the injury.

The Jets could drop his $10.75 million cap hit in 2014, while suffering a setback of just $2.5 million in dead money, according to Spotrac.

He has to prove to the Jets that he's worth the money or else he could become a 30-year-old free-agent looking to sign what might be the last deal of his career. This is a big year for Holmes. 

Beyond Kerley, Hill and Holmes, the Jets' depth chart is eerie. They currently have 15 receivers on their roster. Four are undrafted free agents and four more have started at least one NFL game.

There's a heavy competition for roster spots, but in a group with so little certainty and so many X-factors, the Jets would be wise to let the dust settle before setting Smith up for failure.

 

Let Him Learn and Develop His Skills

Geno Smith has much to learn.

First and foremost, he must learn the West Coast offense. Lucky for him, he'll be learning from a master in Marty Mornhinweg, who has helped revitalize the careers of both Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick. Both Mark Sanchez and David Garrard have experience in the system—though not Mornhinweg's specific style—and could be valuable teaching tools for Smith.

The West Coast offense also plays into Smith's strengths as a quarterback. He spent a majority of his time operating out of the shotgun with a lot of quick throws to Bailey and Austin in West Virginia's offense.

Those are hallmark characteristics of Mornhinweg's offense.

This diagram of the Eagles offense provides just one example of a play in Mornhinweg's West Coast offense. Notice that every route has its break at five yards, except LeSean McCoy's flat route out of the backfield.

Even with an offense that plays to his strengths, Smith must learn it inside and out, as he did West Virginia's offense.

He has a lot of the physical tools, but there's room for improvement there, as well. He must improve his mechanics, mainly his footwork. Bleacher Report's Sigmund Bloom had a lot of nice things to say about Smith in his scouting report, but footwork was the biggest knock:

Smith's footwork is beyond inconsistent. He needs to tighten up his mechanics to iron out issues that result in him missing throws that he should be able to make. He doesn't have a great deep arm, and sometimes, his throws to the sidelines have too much air under them.

When Smith misses, he misses high, which results in bad things in the pros. Smith faded at the end of his senior season, reverted to bad habits, and came up small against the toughest defenses he faced.

Jets fans probably won't be thrilled about either Garrard, coming off a two-year layover from football, or Sanchez, coming off a two-year turnover fest in New York, but despite recent evidence to the contrary, each has seen at least moderate success in their time. 

The support system is in place for Smith to learn the ways of the NFL and of the West Coast offense.

 

Make Him Earn It

Now for something completely different: multiple anonymous sources have come forth to dump on a Jets quarterback.

I'm sure Sanchez and Tim Tebow can both relate, but this time, it's Geno Smith.

First came this scathing remark from an unnamed league executive, via Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole:

His biggest problem is that he doesn't know what he doesn't know. ... I'm not sure he knows how to take instruction because he pretty much wouldn't listen or talk to our coaches. … He's talented. He can sling it, he can fit it into tight spots, he can do a lot of things and I think he wants to be good. But you can't tell him anything right now. He's tuned out because he thinks he's got it all down.

Cole's report also included some information about a particular meeting Smith had in which he spent much of his time on his cell phone instead of interacting with team officials and coaches.

The report was confirmed by ESPN's Rich Cimini:

In fact, an official from one team—not a team that visited with Smith—said the cell-phone episode was mentioned and discussed in its draft room while evaluating Smith. That same team rated Smith the top quarterback in the draft, but assigned him only a second-round grade.

I tend to side with Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports on this. Anonymous sources can be harder to believe because of the lack of accountability, and thereby questionable accuracy.

What should Geno Smith's fate be for 2013?

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I find it odd as well that several stories this season (from the Washington Post and the New York Times) regarded Smith's high character and football intelligence. Did the pre-draft process send him spiraling out of control?

If those anonymous reports are true, however, Smith could use a dose of reality. This will force him to learn the offense before he steps onto the field. If he doesn't show he has learned it, he doesn't get to be the starter. Set the precedent now, unlike with Sanchez, who was never pushed until it was too late.

Even if both reports are untrue, making Smith earn his spot as a starter will either harden him to the show-me ways of the NFL and bring out the best in him as a competitor or reveal his true colors as a front-runner.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.comFollow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports-Reference.com network, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.

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