FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Geno Smith is unfazed by it all.
The presence of Michael Vick doesn’t shake his confidence. Neither does his not-so-solid hold on the New York Jets’ quarterback job. Not even his uncertain status as the future of the franchise.
It’s all talk, as far as Smith is concerned. More like white noise he can easily tune out. Smith believes in himself. Always has. And now, his teammates are also starting to buy in as well.
“He’s taken a quarterback role, he’s taken a leadership role and he’s always growing,” wide receiver Eric Decker said after the Jets’ first minicamp practice Tuesday. “He’s always maturing, he’s always getting better at what he does and he’s got a future in the NFL.”
Smith has transformed from wide-eyed rookie to respected leader in a span of a few months. The second-year quarterback entered minicamp as the starter, ahead of Vick, and Smith intends to keep his spot on the Jets’ depth chart.
“Really, I’m a sponge,” Smith said. “I’m learning as much as I can. I’m learning on the fly. I’m learning every single day. I just soak it up and continue to work hard.”
An up-and-down rookie season ended on a positive note for Smith, with three wins in the final four games and the Jets finishing a respectable 8-8.
“Really, for me, it’s just about continuing to stay grounded,” he said. “This team has a long way to go and we’re still working extremely hard to try to reach our ultimate goal.”
Even as some Jets players have acknowledged being a bit star-struck by Vick, Smith has managed to gain the trust of his teammates — in the huddle and outside of it.
No, there haven’t been any games. And, no, Smith’s body of work doesn’t compare to Vick’s career. But Smith has taken charge of his situation this offseason, pulling teammates aside on the field to go over plays and studying more film than ever before. When the Jets signed Decker in April, Smith sought out general manager John Idzik to get his new wide receiver’s phone number so he could welcome him to the team.
“I always see myself as a leader and that’s in life, in any aspect of my life,” Smith said. “Being in this locker room, I’ve just continued to be myself and guys gravitate to me because I have just a natural leadership ability, leadership qualities, and that’s a part of the reason why I’m here in the first place. I just try to continue to push the guys.”
And make no mistake about it: Smith is pushing himself, too. He knows that last season’s 21 interceptions against 12 touchdowns is no good. He has been working with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach David Lee to improve on his footwork, and going over the playbook in his mind constantly. He is also noticeably bigger physically, the result of increased work in the weight room.
“When it comes to being on the field, I just want perfection,” Smith said. “I try and chase perfection. I try and be the best I can be at every single practice, every single rep. I think that’s what guys are seeing the most.”
That includes coach Rex Ryan, who was encouraged by Smith’s finish last season and has liked what he has seen from him as he tries to build off that.
“He knows this offense forward and backward,” Ryan said. “And, I think we’re going to see some great things from him.”
The Jets have acknowledged that both Smith and Vick are competing for the starting job, but Smith clearly has an edge going in. That could certainly change, especially if Smith falters and Vick thrives in Mornhinweg’s system as he did in Philadelphia.
Smith isn’t planning on that, of course. He also doesn’t believe he needed Vick with New York to push him, calling himself a “self-starter.” But having Vick around could play an important role in Smith taking that next step as an NFL quarterback – and a leader of a franchise.
“I think ‘G’ is a great listener, first and foremost,” Vick said. “I think any key to success in this sport at our position, you have to have the ability to listen.
“I think Geno wants to learn. He wants to be better.”
NOTES: RB Chris Johnson, rehabilitating a surgically repaired left knee, participated in individual drills, but will not take part in 11-on-11 team periods during minicamp. The Jets are being cautious with Johnson, who signed with New York in April. ... G Willie Colon, recovering from offseason knee surgery, said he’s feeling good and fully intends to be ready for training camp. ... The Jets had six players in for tryouts: Punters Drew Butler and Jacob Schum, kickers Andrew Furney and Carson Wiggs, and offensive linemen Bruce Campbell and Ray Dominguez. Butler is the son of former Bears kicker Kevin Butler and spent two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.