FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – On the first day, the mob came early for Geno Smith. It gathered around the temporary locker assigned to the New York Jets' new quarterback and surged forward in a bloodlust. Television cameramen jostled with reporters who elbowed with the radio men who clutched their hand-held recorders, all angling for the best spot to grill the kid in the red jersey.
The world has had Geno Smith on the ropes since the days before the NFL draft when the reputation of the former West Virginia quarterback went from golden citizen to tactless punk. The criticism has been coming in a fusillade of blows: petulant, immature, unable to lead. Now on Day 1 of rookie minicamp, his first on the field in a white Jets helmet, the mob had come to see if he would crumble.
He stepped to his spot. The television lights clicked on. Camera shutters snapped. Breaths were held….
And Geno Smith did what Geno Smith should have done:
He smiled. He laughed. He looked his inquisitors in the eye. He said his days and nights have been lost in the playbook.
"I've been studying my butt off," he said.
What has he done wrong anyway? He may or may not have said he wasn't coming back to the draft for the second day after he wasn't taken in the first round. But return he did, wearing his humiliation with dignity. He fired his agents, yet players fire agents for many reasons. He didn't win as big as everyone hoped at West Virginia but was that his fault?
Who knows what kind of quarterback Smith will be in the NFL. He can throw hard but he has to learn a new system. He has played much of his college career in the shotgun and now will have to adjust to going behind center in the West Coast offense. He is going to make mistakes. It may be a reach to expect he is going to win the five-man scramble to win the Jets' starting quarterback job in the fall.
But to decide in two weeks that he isn't a leader? Based on anonymous information at draft time when nobody speaks the truth about anything? Who really knows? How can they? He hasn't had an NFL team to lead.
Maybe Geno Smith will be an NFL flop, but it will be years before we know. His worst crime was that he was the biggest name in a draft that was painfully empty of big names. If he was something other than a mobile quarterback coming into the league in the spring after a season dominated by young, mobile quarterbacks, nobody would be shoveling so hard into his past, trying to unearth a flaw.
He isn't Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck. He was never supposed to be. He's a player with some skills who was overhyped in a draft that needed life.
So as he stood there facing two waves of interrogations on Friday he laughed at the hard questions. Was he a diva? Is he angry at the criticism? Does he know who trashed him?
"I don't pay attention to any of it," he said. "I just focus on all I can control."
Then he smiled.
"I think it's been more of an eventful few weeks for the media. I'm not paying attention to it," he said.
Trying to make any judgments on Smith now seems silly. He ran a solid practice on the first day of a three-day camp filled with other rookies, long shots and youngsters on a tryout. He threw some balls that should have been caught. He threw some bad passes. He double-clutched a couple of times when a player wasn't ready. He seemed like a player who might have a chance to be a starter in the league someday if things break right.
When asked what he needed to learn most, Smith said "everything." When people tried to goad him into declaring himself ready to win the quarterback job, he said he was just trying to get through rookie minicamp.
Until a few weeks ago, the narrative of Geno Smith was of a football player who had depth – who read to children, acted in plays and wanted to understand a world beyond the playbook. Suddenly he became a diva. How can a reputation change so fast with so little support?
"Maybe I don't know what diva behavior is like," Jets coach Rex Ryan said on Friday when asked if he had seen any eccentricities on Smith's visit to the Jets. "I never saw that at all."
Instead, what he saw on Friday was a quarterback who walked authoritatively into the huddle and called out plays. He saw someone who could throw hard with a tight spiral. He saw someone who knew the plays.
Isn't that all he could have asked of a second-round quarterback who was probably overrated in a year without superstar quarterbacks?
After a few minutes of interrogation the mob around Geno Smith grew smaller. The television cameramen walked away, the photographers put down their cameras and the reporters looked at each other.
"A few more questions for Geno," barked a Jets official.
Nobody said anything. The Jets official looked surprised.
What was left to ask on the first day when the petulant, immature diva had been anything but?
Yahoo! Sports video on Geno Smith beginning quest for Jets' starting role:
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