There are two things that stand out to me about Jets quarterback Geno Smith seven games into his rookie season.
One is his willingness to pull the trigger on downfield throws, which is always a positive in the NFL. Will that result in some forced balls and interceptions? Yes it will. But I believe the willingness to drive the ball down the field is a positive. Quarterbacks who are willing to make throws will throw some interceptions. People will criticize them for those mistakes, but they don’t look at the plays those quarterbacks make with that style.
The other thing is Smith's willingness to stand in the pocket with bodies around him and deliver the ball, and even take some hits. He’s not a flincher, he doesn’t shy away, he’s tough and a strong pocket quarterback. I’m not sure you can teach that. For example, that’s one of Blaine Gabbert's major undoings. He’s soft in the pocket. You can’t be soft in the pocket and be a quality NFL quarterback. And Geno is very tough in the pocket.
Smith has some misreads. He forces some throws. He makes some decisions that are head scratchers. But you expect that because this system is new to him. He ran a pure spread offense at West Virginia, and now he's running a NFL offense.
When Smith came out of college, there were a few things that bothered me about his game. He had NFL arm talent, that was obvious. But his footwork in the pocket was poor, which seems to be a concern with pure shotgun college quarterbacks. I thought it needed to be cleaned up, and the Jets have done a good job with that. I thought he was not a pure anticipation thrower in college – that’s a function of the system – because he threw after his receiver already made his break, and he got away with it because he had receivers like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey who could get open. And I thought there were some concerns with his accuracy, and that still crops up with him sometimes. He was drafted in the second round, and that's exactly where I thought he should be drafted.
The Jets coaching staff has done a great job with him. They use concepts to help their receivers beat man-to-man coverage, something offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a great job last week against New England. They give Smith easy-to-read defined throws at the intermediate and deeper levels.
And when Smith threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown last week (it wasn't Smith's fault, his receiver stopped on an in-breaking route and let the cornerback cross his face, which you can never do as a NFL receiver), the Jets showed their confidence in Smith. On the first play after the interception, Mornhinweg put Smith back in the shotgun in an empty formation. Smith hit Stephen Hill for 17 yards. That's a great sign. A NFL team will let you know how they feel about their quarterback by what they ask him to do, and what the Jets are asking Smith to do tells you they feel good about him.
Smith could struggle this week. While New England played mostly man-to-man coverage last week, the Bengals this week will do more things defensively with their scheme that could impact protection and force him to make more throws under duress. He could throw some picks this week and get sacked six times, and it wouldn't surprise me.
People want to make bold judgments right away, but this is a process with Smith and all young NFL quarterbacks. On the balance there’s more positives than negatives with Smith right now. But barring injury he’s going to play nine more games this season, and we’ll learn a lot more about him.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.