When the Jets take the field Friday morning for their first rookie minicamp session, all eyes will be on Geno Smith. Stepping into the professional spotlight for the first time, the Jets rookie QB will begin his mentorship under QB coach David Lee and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
"I know this," Mornhinweg told a group of Jets season ticket holders this week. "He's built the right way and I believe this — there are only certain types of players who can play in New York and I think he's one of them."
The Jets were pleasantly surprised when Smith was still on their board when it came time for their second round-selection. But Mornhinweg is now excited to mold the former West Virginia star as Smith transitions from a shotgun spread free-wheeling attack to a West Coast timing-based offense with a brand new terminology.
"Our scouting department — led by John (Idzik) — did an unbelievable amount of work on everybody in the draft including Geno. I am so happy that he was there first and I'm happy that he's here," Mornhinweg said. "We'll see how quickly we can get him up to speed. That will be our challenge. How quick can we get this thing done where Geno could go in and function at a high level on a consistent basis in a league game?"
Since the draft, a Yahoo! Report was published with sources indicating that Smith was less than engaged on some of his pre-draft visits.
"We don't really care about others' evaluations. We did our job. We liked Geno very, very much," Mornhinweg said. "I think he has an opportunity to be a heck of a player in this league. We'll see if he takes advantage of that opportunity."
Smith will be one of the five competitors in the Jets QB battle, but he and Matt Simms will be the only two throwing the rock on rookie weekend. Mornhinweg said both Mark Sanchez and David Garrard have "looked good" during Phase 2 of the Jets offseason program. Greg McElroy is also in the mix as well.
"I have high expectations for that position and it's that simple. They know it," said the Jets first-year OC. "I know that they thrive under conditions that are well-planned out, that they know what the expectations are and they're coached by good coaches and they have good players around them — they thrive in that environment. That's an environment that I'm trying to create offensively for us."
While Smith and the other recent rookie additions have had their playbooks for almost two weeks, the Jets veterans have already begun learning the new offense's language and receiving classroom instruction.
"We've been on the field several times. The fellas are in a big learning curve right now and once they get the terminology down, now we'll be able to do everything that we want to do," Mornhinweg said. "The terminology in this offense is quite substantial, so that's their first challenge. The fellas — bar none — have done everything that I've asked them to do and more. They're taking their books home and studying. On the field, we've been really sharp. You have to go back to Day 1 — stance, start and the cadence. We'll use the cadence as a weapon. We've been working on alignments, assignments and especially the terminology."
In each of Mornhinweg's first six seasons as a coordinator with the Eagles, his offense produced either a 1,000-yard rusher (Brian Westbrook 2 LeSean "Shady" McCoy 2), a 1,000-yard receiver (Desean Jackson 2, Kevin Curtis) or a 3,000-yard passer (Donovan McNabb 3, Michael Vick 2). In 2010, Mornhinweg was named NFL assistant coach of the year by Pro Football Weekly as the Eagles set a franchise record for points for a third consecutive season.
"We will do a lot of things and I'll try to keep it as simple in our players' minds as possible, but I rely on them to get in the book, to get their preparation done and we'll make it as utterly confusing to our opponent as possible," he said. "The easiest thing I think for a defensive unit is if by formation, personnel shift or motion, they know one of these three things is coming at them — it can't be that way. It's got to be they have to have no idea what's coming at them. We'll do similar things, but they'll look different to a defensive structure to keep them off-balance."
Conversational with a relaxed demeanor off the field, the Jets have themselves an aggressive play-caller in Mornhinweg. The big question heading into OTAs and the summer is: What Jets QB will ultimately display the decision making, timing and accuracy to get the ball in this offense?
"As you know now, I like to go for the throat," Mornhinweg said. "As long as we have the players we can do that with, we will do that time and time again."