Jets’ Mornhinweg: Geno can be ‘a really good one’

Marty Mornhinweg knows a few things about developing NFL

quarterbacks.

After all, he’s been around Brett Favre, Jeff Garcia and Michael

Vick, to name a few. And, the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator

sees promise in Geno Smith, despite the rookie’s struggles this

season.

”I don’t think there’s any question,” Mornhinweg said

Thursday. ”I’m even more certain now than I was earlier that he

could be a really good one.”

That might seem to some a curious statement, considering the ups

and downs Smith has had and the uncertainty as to whether he could

be the Jets’ quarterback of the future. But to Mornhinweg, Smith

has the skillset to improve in a big way.

”He’s got skill and ability,” Mornhinweg said. ”He’s a bright

young man. We’ve talked about this before, but he’s got instincts.

So he’s got a lot of things, really good things, and they show.

Now, from afar or if you’re not really in it, it’s probably hard to

see the great progress.

”He’s certainly progressed,” Mornhinweg added.

The numbers don’t necessarily bear that out, especially with

Smith’s 21 interceptions ranking him second only to the 25 thrown

by the Giants’ Eli Manning for most in the league. His 62.9 rating

is also lowest among starting quarterbacks, impacted largely by a

brutal seven-game stretch in which he had just one touchdown pass

and 11 interceptions.

Smith, who has 10 touchdown passes overall, has just two games

in which he hasn’t been picked off at least once.

”He, as a quarterback, has taken some pretty good steps forward

and then we’ve taken some steps back and then taken some steps

forward,” Mornhinweg said. ”I felt like we had to restart almost

a few weeks back.”

That’s when Smith was benched in favor of backup Matt Simms, and

some fans and media clamored to have Simms get a shot at the

starting job. Instead, Mornhinweg and coach Rex Ryan stuck with

Smith, wanting to see the rookie try to climb out of the hole he

was in.

He has, in fact, played better the last few weeks, throwing for

386 yards with two TDs and two INTs, while also rushing for 94

yards and a score on 11 carries.

”Everybody progresses at a different rate at really all

positions, but particular the quarterback,” Mornhinweg said.

”There’s a select few who come in seamlessly and are on,

typically, fantastic football teams, these types of things. And

there are others that, man alive, it might take a year or two.

”Shoot, there have been some really good quarterbacks where

it’s taken longer than that.”

In other words, sometimes the team gets better as the

quarterback gets better and progresses.

”And you’ve got something special,” Mornhinweg said. ”So,

that’s sort of my vision on that type of thing.”

The Jets will have to make a decision as to whether they’ll go

into next season with Smith in mind as their starter for the

present, or if they’ll look elsewhere. It’s likely New York will

either pursue a proven veteran or look at drafting a quarterback in

the first round to compete with Smith next summer.

”I’m not focused on next year,” Smith said. ”I have a game

coming up this Sunday and that’s more important than anything

outside of what I’m focused on.”

Smith, a second-round pick, was thrust into the job after Mark

Sanchez went down during the preseason with a season-ending

shoulder injury. It appeared to many that Sanchez was ahead in the

competition, but it all became moot when he was hurt.

So, Smith has had to learn on the job, and it has had

predictably inconsistent results. Smith became the first

quarterback since the 1970 merger to lead four winning drives in

the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. He also

broke Sanchez’s record for yards passing by a rookie.

The miscues and constant criticisms – he locks on receivers too

much, he can’t read defenses good enough, and so on – are the

counterpoints the Jets will need to consider in the next several

months.

But Smith believes he is continuing to get better, and refuses

to dwell on the mistakes he has made or what people’s opinions of

him might be.

”That’s pretty much the goal every single day, to go out and

try to improve in some way, shape or form,” he said. ”I’ve been

trying to do that every single game, every single day in practice.

It’s been working for me, I’ve shown progress. That’s something

that’s a good sign.

”But I have to keep climbing and not focus on where I am now,

but where I want to be in the future,” he said.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org