I caught up with Smith at last week's Jets Kickoff Luncheon and asked him if he has personally made the kinds of strides this offseason and preseason that he wanted to make coming off those four very encouraging last-quarter games last year.
"Yes, I think I got better," he said. "I think I began to build on just improving every single thing about my game, and overall it was a pretty good showing. Now we're going to have a long season ahead of us and there's going to be a lot more at stake and things are going to be a lot different, so we've got to prepare for that. But overall, things have gotten better."
That reference to octets in the opening paragraph may seem like comparing apples to oranges or Nerf balls to footballs, but I think it's still instructive. True, he played in only parts of two of the four preseason games last year as a rookie before taking the reins in Week 1 against Tampa Bay, and true, he started but played only parts of three games this summer.
But Smith also had that rough third-quarter stretch in '13 where he threw the ball very little and lost three in a row. And in all of his pro preseason and regular-season games, he was feeling a similar pressure to learn fast and excel.
His progress in Games 13-16 last year combined with this year's preseason outings shows his play undeniably improving over his first two eight-game segments in a number of key metrics — touchdown drive rate, personal turnovers, passer rating, three-and-out rate:
"I’ve coached rookie quarterbacks, but not to start the season and go 16 games," QBs coach David Lee said last week. "Well, this guy misses 2½, three games of preseason. So we come in there with Geno and Matt [Simms] as one and two against Tampa Bay and we’re holding our breath. We’ve got two rookies here fixing to do this whole thing for 16 weeks and I thought it was a little bit overwhelming, which is why he was so up and down through probably the first two-thirds of the season."
And then, Lee said, Geno "started playing quarterback the way you want to play quarterback. ... He settled. The more he played, the more confidence he got. And now he walks the building with more confidence, more command. He's not cocky, he's a humble kid, but boy, he's a confident quarterback right now."
Smith agrees about confidence being the X-factor.
"The offensive line has been protecting me extremely well. The wide receivers have been doing a great job of getting open and finishing plays. And then the backs have always done a tremendous job," he said. "Just gaining more confidence in my teammates and the guys around me has helped me gain more confidence in myself. Also, understanding the offense better is helping out a lot as well.
Lee said Smith is not yet the complete QB.
"He can still improve just everything a little better, except probably his footwork has been almost immaculate," Lee said. "But just tighten up everything a little bit better — scramble, keeping my eyes down field a little bit longer, if I’m going to run, pump it, pump it twice, take off and run. Just putting those little things together and we’ll be ready to go when the games start."
Whether my odd bundling of Geno's games is valid, we'll soon find out. But with his fourth NFL eight-pack just around the corner, Smith already knows the most important metric to filter out from the noise and focus on, beginning against the Raiders.
"I'm very eager to start the season. I anticipate great things from our team. We've had a really good minicamp, OTAs, training camp. Right now it's about us continuing to work hard and practice and hone in on Oakland," he said. "We're still getting better. We're still young. We've got to go out and prove ourselves and try to win games."
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