FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Geno Smith remains confident in his abilities, no matter what his lengthy list of doubters and critics say.
He entered training camp as the New York Jets‘ starting quarterback, but a punch to Smith’s jaw derailed his season — and his future with the franchise.
“I’m extremely competitive,” Smith said Monday. “I was put in a tough situation this year. I think I did my best to handle it in the best way possible. Being that I didn’t play, it’s probably the first time that I haven’t played since I was about 8 years old.”
Smith’s season was limited to one game on the field, filling in for an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick for three-plus quarters at Oakland on Nov. 1. His final stats line was forgettable: 27 of 42 for 265 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“I want to be out there, we all do,” Smith said. “But I use things as my motivation, as fuel to my fire. Everything that I’ve went through and everything that’s been said, I listen to it. I hear it, and I use it.”
Not good enough. Not consistent. Not a leader. Not good at reading defences. Makes questionable decisions.
They’ve all been said or written about Smith over the last few seasons since being the Jets’ second-round draft pick out of West Virginia in 2013 and starting as a rookie. Having his jaw broken when then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali slugged him during a locker-room dispute in August only added to the narrative.
But Smith is also undeniably talented, with tantalizing athleticism and a strong throwing arm. That combination has the Jets wondering what could be if he puts it all together.
“I believe in myself,” he said. “I believe in my ability. I think the experience that I gained this year and the developmental part of that, I think that’s going to grow and continue to grow. I just want to continue to become the player that I envision myself being.”
Smith is unsure what’s in store, but has no doubts he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
“Of course,” he said.
It seems unlikely, however, that it will be with the Jets. At least, not next season.
Fitzpatrick is scheduled to be a free agent, but said Monday he’d like to return — and coach Todd Bowles said the feeling is mutual, adding that the 33-year-old veteran would be the starter if he returned.
That could leave Smith on the sideline again in his fourth NFL season.
“No one knows what will happen,” he said. “No one can predict the future. I know you guys (the media) like to. You like to think that you know everything, but we’ll see.”
At 25, Smith still has time to turn things around. He has 27 career touchdown passes and 35 interceptions and has also rushed for seven scores.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Smith said. “When I came in, from Day 1, I wanted to play. That’s never going to change.”
Smith wouldn’t speculate on where he’ll play next season, saying only, “We’ll see.” He has a year remaining on his rookie contract, and the Jets could opt to have him compete with Bryce Petty as Fitzpatrick’s backup, or cut ties with him.
He acknowledged, however, that he would prefer to be in a situation in which he has a chance to be a team’s starter.
“Well, of course,” Smith said. “I guess if you’re saying that I don’t have that opportunity here, I don’t believe that. We don’t know what’s going to transpire.”
Smith brushed off a question about whether he might entertain the idea of trying to seek a trade or ask to be released.
“That’s a very hypothetical question,” he said. “I don’t really know how to answer that. I haven’t done it yet.”
Bowles was complimentary of Smith, praising him for how he carried himself during what could be a career-defining season.
“I like Geno Smith as a quarterback and a person as well,” Bowles said. “I thought Geno was very mature as a person. I thought he was very mature as a quarterback. I thought he handled everything well. I thought he took all his reps. I thought he got better as a person and I was very proud of what he did this year.”
Smith insisted he had no regrets about what happened during training camp, calling it “humbling.” But he doesn’t consider this season a lost opportunity, saying he’s “appreciative of everything that has happened.”
Smith heads into the off-season focused on getting stronger and improving himself in every area possible.
“I’m going to continue to do that, but work 10 times harder,” he said, “because I’ve got 10 times more motivation.”