Geno Smith's first two words of his response to one of the first questions he fielded Monday — "Somber, man" — was in regard to the mood of the Jets' locker room a day after their 22-17 loss at Buffalo.
Some might think he'd answer the same way about his third NFL season. But that's not the way Smith rolled all year and it's not the way he answered reporters as he and his teammates cleaned out their lockers and scattered for parts unknown.
"I mean, it's always tough as a competitor," he said of his very limited regular-season action behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. "But I did my best to help out in any way I could all year long, with supporting my teammates helping prepare, helping with the game plan, giving a defensive look when I had to, and just really trying to improve myself."
Smith was and is in a position not very common among NFL quarterbacks. He started 29 games his first two seasons at the Jets helm and was preparing to start a third before the unfortunate locker room incident that resulted in his broken jaw. Fitzpatrick stepped in and guided the Jets to 10-6, with his only time off coming after he suffered his left thumb injury early in Game 7 at Oakland.
In a small way, Smith had a hand in a big franchise record. He contributed two touchdown passes in the 34-20 loss to the Raiders, which combined with Fitzpatrick's 31 for 33 TD passes, tying the team single-season record set in 1998.
Smith was asked if 2015 was a humbling experience for him and he agreed, to a point.
"Yeah, but has it humbled me? I've always been humble, I've always taken that approach. I don't really think that I think too highly of myself as far as being a big-headed guy," he said. "My parents instilled that in me and they always told me to rely on that, so that's what I do and I just keep things in perspective."
Perhaps a better adjective than "humbling" about his experience the past five months would be "learning."
"I learned a lot about how to support guys, how to influence guys from a different role, how to be less about myself and more about the team," Smith said. "I learned a lot about X's and O's. I think Chan [Gailey]'s a great coach, Kevin [Patullo]'s a great coach.
"And Fitz is an extremely smart guy, so I've taken a lot from that guy. I learned so many things that I can't really put them all out there. But I learned a lot."
Talk about Fitzpatrick and Smith in the same breath prompts reporters and fans to think about the 2016 dynamic if Fitzpatrick is re-signed. Head coach Todd Bowles spoke highly about how Smith handled his unexpected backup situation this year.
"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."
But as for next season, Bowles left no doubt about Fitzpatrick's status: "If he comes back, he'll be the starter."
Many would like answers today, yet certain personnel matters just won't be resolved sooner than April, or July, or September. Smith wasn't going to be goaded into a QB controversy so quickly nor about whether he'd ask the Jets to move him to another team. He's still a Jet, he has confidence in his abilities and his work ethic, and he's going into this offseason the only way he knows how.
"I'm going to work extremely hard, get bigger, get stronger, take full advantage of the weightroom, and just continue to strive for what I've always been striving for. I'm not going to change the way I go about things because I've always worked hard and I've always had the right mindset, but I have to work 10 times harder because I've got 10 times more motivation," he said.
"I guess if you're saying I don't have an opportunity here, I don't believe that. We don't know what's going to happen. We have to all wait and see."