Jets fans have spent most of this offseason celebrating: New GM Mike Maccagnan, using the salary cap space that John Idzik left in his wake, rebuilt the defense to its 2010 glory by getting Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie back, acquired a new offensive weapons in Brandon Marshall and Stevan Ridley, and used the draft to beef up areas of need and making the defensive line an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, new head coach Todd Bowles has established himself as completely different from his predecessors, being more loose than Eric Mangini and more disciplined than Rex Ryan. Not only that, but he completely moved on from the old regime’s coaching staff. Among those new hires is Chan Gailey, an offensive guru that has a reputation for getting the most out of mediocre quarterbacks.
So why is the fanbase still grumbling?
The answer is whom is playing quarterback.
Ever since Chan Gailey announced that Geno Smith would be starting and that there would be no competition, despite having a quarterback who knows his system as well as an already popular draft pick, the reaction has been mixed. Message boards have been either 50/50 or overwhelmingly against Geno being named the starter, the reason being that he had a meh freshman year, another mediocre sophomore year which was accentuated by alarmingly bad performances which led to stretches of riding the bench, and, to put it in the most politically correct way, concern with Smith’s supposed lack of maturity and ability to handle the rigors of a pro offense. And in a lot of cases, these concerns are warranted. We all remember Smith leaving Radio City Music Hall after falling entirely out of the first round and being coaxed to come back in. We remember him firing his old agency the day after he was drafted and signing with Jay-Z’s then fledgling Roc Nation Sports. We remember him being escorted off a plane, and being late for a team meeting. Yes, Smith may still have maturity issues adjusting to the NFL.
We also realize that Smith did have a problem with the offenses that he played in in his first two years. However, we have to admit that not every issue in that case was his. Perhaps the best cases for this argument fell on three very key games: Jets-Packers, Bills-Jets, and Dolphins-Jets.
The Packers game is probably where we can pinpoint Geno’s descent. He had had a decent game, going 16 for 32 with 176 yards, a passing and a rushing touchdown, and one interception. However, Aaron Rodgers, unhindered by the ghosts of Revis and Cromartie, went hog-wild, throwing to Jordy Nelson like it was a game of backyard catch. Geno actually had the opportunity to tie the game up at the end, and would have too. He threw a crucial 4th down touchdown pass to Jeremy Kerley, however, it was negated by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg calling a timeout.
Why did Mornhinweg call the timeout?
Well, if you saw the highlight, it was because Geno called an audible, which Mornhinweg didn’t agree with. He ran to call timeout, despite the rule stating that only the head coach can call timeout, and despite knowing that the call didn’t come from Rex Ryan, the refs called timeout. From a psychological analysis, one could assume that it contributed to Geno’s loss of confidence. Imagine that, you throw the game tying touchdown, only to have it negated because your coordinator went full panic mode and called timeout. That sequence of actions alone would crush anyone’s confidence and make them second guess themselves.
In the second game, the Jets-Bills contest, Geno was pulled early in the game because he had been picked off three times trying to throw to newly acquired wide receiver Percy Harvin. Later on in the season, we found out why: Jets coaches, namely Mornhinweg, effectively forced Geno to throw to Harvin by making predetermined reads for him. Mornhinweg’s handling of Geno in those two games bordered on that of a horrible foster family, a combination of Judge Claude Frollo and Norma Bates. It’s almost a miracle that Geno didn’t snap due to his mishandling and poor nurturing, compounded with the frustration of millions of Jets fans and the media.
The final game was effectively the kiss of death for Smith. In a game where Rex Ryan and Mornhinweg ran the ball against the Dolphins for almost every play of the game, the ultimate middle finger to GM John Idzik for his disaster of an offseason and betrayal of Ryan, we saw an abandonment of Smith’s development. Mornhinweg no longer cared. In what little time he had, he had automatically determined that Smith wasn’t worth his salt despite there being time left in the season.
In a way, Geno’s story borders on tragic, the fact that fans have abandoned him after two seasons, that a coaching staff all but called him worthless to his face. And yet amazingly, Smith actually slightly improved despite the bad record. While his yardage went down, obviously because he was benched for two games, his touchdowns went up and his interceptions went down. His passer rating also improved.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Fans do have a reason to not be happy with Smith, but they can’t blame everything on him.
Last year was an unmitigated disaster. The hope was that the Jets could somehow be relevant in the East despite not having a secondary or a true number 1 wide receiver. However, because the quarterback deals with the brunt of the media due to his status on the team, Smith was effectively dealt a bad hand and had to endure plenty of criticism. And like I said, there were some reasonable gripes.
However, to call the Geno experiment a failure after two years will further solidify a reputation that the Jets are a quarterback graveyard.
Gailey has said in interviews that he will tailor an offense around Geno Smith, rather than forcing a square peg in a round hole and having him learn an offense, which is what Mornhinweg did. By endorsing Geno from Day 1, he’s giving him some confidence and showing him that at least someone believes in him. This is an excellent move and a step in the right direction. And here’s the thing, Gailey didn’t have to do this. He had a quarterback that already knew his system; he could have easily waited until his leg healed and then named him the starter.
Smith not only could have his confidence back, but he also finally has a full cabinet of weapons at his disposal, a true number 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, who has decided to take the young quarterback under his wing, as well as Eric Decker who could be a valuable #2 in his second year in New York, as well as a deep threat in Devin Smith. Given Geno’s ability to throw the deep ball, Smith actually could be more valuable that he looks right now.
Furthermore, he has a solid glut of running back talent behind him in Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley, Zac Stacy and Bilal Powell. While none of these backs are speed runners, they do possess value as power backs, runners who will fight for yardage.
Lastly, he has his tight ends. Jace Amaro actually was the best tight end in his class last year, and as a mismatch against defenders, it’d be like having an extra receiver out there on every down. Jeff Cumberland and Zach Sudfeld also provide solid depth.
If Gailey can work the same magic he did with Thigpen and Fitzpatrick, he could make Geno into an at-least league average quarterback. Furthermore, he can take the pressure off Geno now, because there is a good team surrounding him.
However, Geno knows that this is his last shot, and while the previous regime screwed him over, he’ll have no excuses with what’s been set out for him now. Should he falter or be injured, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gailey’s original protege, will take the reigns, and he won’t last longer than maybe another year. The organization will not be beholden to Geno anymore and could use the interim period to develop Petty behind Fitzpatrick, all while getting rid of Smith.
This is a crucial season for the third year quarterback. He has the opportunity to redeem himself after two rough years. If only the fanbase felt the same way.