Feature Image: Associated Press
The time from now until training camp can be filled with a mix of vacations and training regiments for players and personnel, but for hardcore NFL fans it’s more of a time filled with vodka and despair.
We’ll be counting down to the July 23rd, report-to-Cortland date, by featuring current players with roster numbers that correspond with the number of days left. For days without a corresponding player, we’ll be featuring other players and maybe some surprises. (JUST ONE WEEK!)
7 Days Left = #7 Geno Smith
Everyone knows that Jets QB Geno Smith needs to improve. Whether you ask an NFL ‘analyst’ and are told that Smith played atrocious in 2013, or ask a knowledgable fan who says he played poor, but rookie-esque; the point is, Smith needs to get better if he is to remain as Gang Green’s captain.
But how and in what key areas Smith needs to improve, should be at the core of the discussion.
One of the fundamental flaws in most rookie players, regardless of position, is a lack of anticipation. A wide receiver may have to make a snap decision on an option route based on coverage. A quarterback has to anticipate where that receiver will find a soft spot in coverage and throw the ball before the receiver even ends up in that location.
Anticipation is by definition preparing for and, at times, expecting something to happen.
As it relates to Smith, his ability to throw receivers open or feel pressure coming in his direction, lacked in 2013 compared to the NFL’s average. Behind sometimes worrisome offensive line play, Smith’s natural fight or flight thinking caused him to either release the ball to early (before facing real pressure) or hold onto the ball seconds too long (causing sacks and other snap decisions.)
Smith ended the season t-5th in sacks (43) and 4th in INTs (21).
Anticipation issues are fixable over time, but it should be noted that these, for the most part, are less about the talent level surrounding him and more about his own football IQ. As Smith becomes more familiar with the defenses he faces, his own offensive playbook, and when the ‘speed of the game’ mentally slows down for him, he should, in theory, improve.
Smith can immediately help his cause by trusting himself, even while playing through some rough patches. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith led the league in throw-aways (26). Had he been able to convert some of those throw-aways into plays, we may have a slightly different impression of Smith’s rookie season.
If you can throw the football 100 yards, great, but it won’t matter in the NFL if you can’t throw it on target.
There was a game created for GameCube called NFL QB Club 2002 that I used to love playing. The reviews for it were worse than sub-par, but I stuck to only one aspect of the game: the quarterback challenge (which used to be a real annual event in Hawaii.) While there were varying events to test a QB’s abilities, the driving force was accuracy — to be able to hit a target at the right time, with multiple things going on at once, and with a pressure to be better than your competitors. (If you’ve played it before, please let me know in a comment or on Twitter, so I don’t feel like an old guy with an anecdote.)
While the game was fun for me growing up, the game of football is more than that for those that step on the field.
For Geno Smith, he could stand to learn a lot about moving targets and the ability to land a ball into a receiver’s hands that not only creates a play, but allows the receiver to do something with his legs.
Smith’s deep ball accuracy ranked among the top-5 quarterbacks in the league. But numbers do lie, ESPN.
With the long-ball comes less of a need for a receiver to add on yards after catch. See, the New York Jets ranked 31st in the NFL in total YAC (SportingCharts.com). As a run-first and defensive team, the New York Jets do not require Smith to lead the league in passing attempts, but they do require big plays that aren’t always available on-the-ground. This being the case, the Jets’ per reception YAC of 5.26, placing the team 22nd in the NFL, isn’t quite as worrisome, but is still not efficient enough.
It is Smith’s ball location that often forced receivers to fall victim to initial tacklers.
While every player has different mannerisms and techniques, I personally believe Smith could benefit his accuracy with a different approach to holding onto the ball. To illustrate, below is an image to compare Smith’s pre-throw ball positioning, with that of premier QBs in the league.
Notice here that Smith is the odd man out in terms of holding the football, as he readies to attempt a pass. His awkward ball positioning is the same reason that we perhaps don’t see Tim Tebow currently in the NFL. The extra time needed to flip the ball around to make a pass can often be too long.
Drew Brees, one of the smaller QBs in the NFL at 6’0″, benefits by possessing an above-average hand size (for his height) of 10.25 inches. Smith, at 6’2″, possesses a below-average hand size of 9.28 inches. While genetics cannot be ‘fixed’, this may be one of the reasons that Smith grips the ball in the manner of which he does. Still, I believe he’d be better off following the example of his successful peers.
My final note for Smith is more of an aside, as there is no one way to be a leader and it is not always something that can be just ‘created’. Leadership comes from within, from experience, and from example; there’s no guidebook of what is necessarily right.
Geno Smith was a quiet, but self-assured leader in 2013. His confidence seemed sincere, and his teammates, while transitioning from a previous QB’s era, seemed to appreciate his efforts.
However, it never appeared like Smith commanded the huddle. He didn’t rally the troops when the team was losing a game. His late-game heroics are dully noted, but there seemingly was more of a focus on blossoming talent than inspiration. Everything about Smith’s 2013 leadership seemed portrayed in a ‘well he’s the quarterback, so he’s the guy we follow’ mentality.
In an NFL locker room, leadership is almost always earned, but Smith’s was given in many ways, due to circumstance — a new GM and new direction for the team.
This season, Smith can prove that he’s matured enough to step into the role of a sustainable leader — one who earns his keep by actions on and off the field, and not just by circumstance. That comes, first, by Smith proving himself the better QB in training camp competition with Michael Vick, and not just because he’s given the title of starter. He needs to continue to demonstrate to his teammates that his talent is still developing, and that he intends to be with the New York Jets for the long haul.