Geno Smith was once a highly-touted college quarterbacking prospect with a high ceiling. The West Virginia star entered the 2013 NFL Draft on the heels of a career in which he threw 97 touchdowns in three seasons as the starter.
NFL teams were skeptical, however. Smith sat and watched as team after team passed on him in the first round of the draft. He fell to No. 39 overall, when the Jets made him their second-round selection.
Smith would win the club’s starting QB job as a rookie after Mark Sanchez injured his shoulder. He started all 16 games for the Jets as a rookie, showing flashes of stardom, setting franchise records for a rookie QB in passing yards and completion percentage, but also displayed his numerous limitations and a penchant for turnovers.
He started 13 games the next season and then was replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015 after getting his jaw broken in a looker room skirmish with a teammate. Smith was all but a forgotten man under new Jets head coach Todd Bowles. His fate was sealed when he tor his ACL in midseason and was lost for the year. The Jets chose to let Smith walk as a free agent this March.
What Smith’s next move would be was anyone’s guess. Not many felt he would ever be a starter in this league and several teams, such as Cleveland and San Diego kicked his tires. Then the Giants decided to give him a shot at becoming Eli Manning’s backup since the team was not going to re-sign Ryan Nassib. He impressed them enough to sign him to a one-year deal on March 17.
“Geno has a great, positive attitude, and he’s looking forward to learning and competing in our QB room,” Giants general manager Jerry Reese said after the signing.
Smith is looking at this opportunity as a fresh start. The Jets team that drafted him was a mess under Rex Ryan and he never really got a chance to develop. He sees that happening now with the Giants.
“I think the opportunity to learn from (quarterbacks) coach (Frank) Cignetti, coach (Ben) McAdoo, and to be alongside Eli (Manning) and learn from him, a two-time Super Bowl champion and, in my opinion, a Hall of Fame quarterback,” Smith said in March. “I think it will work out tremendously for me. And it’s also an opportunity to be on a real good team, a winning team, get healthy – it’s just a perfect scenario for me. I couldn’t have written it up any better myself.”
Much has changed since then. The Giants selected Cal star Davis Webb in the third round of the draft who is expected to become Manning’s successor. Smith will be fighting to be the team’s third quarterback this summer. The problem there is the Giants usually carry just two QBs on their roster because of Manning’s legendary durability.
That has not deterred Smith and the reality it’s unlikely the Giants will go with just Eli and the rookie come September, meaning Smith will be facing off against another young veteran in Josh Johnson for the third QB spot.
This week at the Giants’ OTAs, the 26 year-old Smith is basically watching as he continues his rehabilitation from last November’s knee surgery. His spirit is still high and he knows his chance is still to come this July at training camp.
“I am feeling pretty good. Every day is getting better and getting stronger,” Smith told reporters this week. “As of right now, I haven’t taken any team reps. I feel like I can do everything, it is just getting the trainers to give me that access. But I fully believe in what they are doing and just taking our time and when I get out there I will be ready.”
In the interim Smith has been studying McAdoo’s offense, which is very similar to the one he played in with the Jets run by Marty Mornhinweg with a slight difference in terminology. He has been impressed by the vibe in the Giants’ facility but would not compare it to that of the Jets’.
“Mental reps are huge,” said Smith. “I am always going through the motions per se. Whenever coach calls the play, we get it in our helmets and I am going through the checks, going through the reads, footwork, things in the back and once I get in there I don’t think my head will be spinning as much because I have been doing that. So I think that is a really good thing.”
Asked if he felt he needed to vindicate himself after his Jets career went awry, Smith stuck to his internal script.
“Honestly, I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone other than myself,” he said. “I am just trying to be my best every single day, focusing on trying to be perfect. I know that is a far goal to try and reach, but just trying to be perfect every day and understanding what is required of me once I step onto the field and then trying to get it done.”
Smith would not comment on his decision to sign with the Giants other than that is was the best opportunity for him to grow as a player.
“Being in a system that I was previously in, one that I thought was really good for me and my skillset,’ he said. “Also being with Coach McAdoo and all of the coaches – I really got a good vibe from the guys and being with a winning organization. All of the things that I put on the top of my list, I felt that here was the place for it.”
It will be interesting to see Smith throwing passes in a Giant uniform this summer. Many Giant fans panned him as a bust while he was with the Jets, and they had every right to do so. But sometimes the light goes on for players in the second or third chance in this league. The Giants are hoping it will for Smith. At the very least, he will remain visible as the Giants challenge for the NFC East title, and perhaps a Super Bowl berth, this season.
But Smith is under no illusions. He knows the team is high on Webb and his chances of unseating Manning are about as long as a long shot can get.
“I have been in situations where quarterbacks have been drafted and it happens in this league, so you just have to continue to work,” Smith said when asked of his reaction to the Giants drafting Webb. “We always say that the cream always rises to the top, right? So guys who aren’t afraid of competition and like to work – they usually perform when their best is needed, so I like to think that I am one of those guys.”
That being said, Geno admitted to liking Webb and hopes to develop a solid rapport with him.
“I like Davis, man. I think he is hungry, he is eager, has a strong, live arm,” said Smith. “He is a really good kid. He is learning a lot and picking up things fast. He has been really good so far.”
The Giants have gone from wondering what the post-Eli era would look like to suddenly having several options crop up almost overnight. If Webb develops into what they hope and Smith can get his career back on track, Reese and Co. will have scored big this offseason again.