National Football League
What’s driving Geno Smith? Experience, footwork, belief in himself
National Football League

What’s driving Geno Smith? Experience, footwork, belief in himself

Published Oct. 7, 2022 12:42 p.m. ET

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer

The Seattle Seahawks found their franchise quarterback in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft in Russell Wilson, who helped lead the team to its first and only Super Bowl title in his second season. 

Heading into that 2013 season, the Seahawks were in search of a backup with a similar skill-set. Seahawks quarterbacks coach Dave Canales, who has been with Seattle since Pete Carroll took over as the team's head coach in 2010, helped evaluate college QBs during the pre-draft process that year and saw someone who could fit the mold of an athletic NFL quarterback: West Virginia's Geno Smith.

Smith was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Jets, with former Seahawks salary cap guru John Idzik serving as New York's general manager. 


Little did Canales know back then that Smith would wind up with the Seahawks six years later and eventually succeed Wilson as the team's starter. 

During his evaluation, Canales said he had to remove the quick, short passes that Mountaineers wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey turned into big plays with their speed. When taking those plays out, Canales witnessed Smith's ability to push the ball down the field and saw NFL arm talent. 

"If you took those out and kind of evaluated the rest of it, he was just an accurate, vertical passer," Canales told FOX Sports. "So, from there you said he's got the ability. He's got the arm talent for sure. He's got the physical ability. 

"But can he read out pro-style concepts? Can he do all those things? … He's a really smart dude, and that's why John Idzik took a shot at him in New York."

Smith has been one of the most surprising performers through the first quarter of the 2022 NFL season. A season-opening starter for the first time since 2014, Smith tops the league in completion percentage (77.3%), throwing for 1,037 yards with six touchdowns and just two interceptions in leading Seattle to a 2-2 record. His passer rating of 108.8 is third in the NFL.

He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in a win over the Detroit Lions last week, completing 23 of 30 passes for 320 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith also ran for 49 yards. 

"Today we got it done" — Geno Smith on 48-45 win over Lions

Geno Smith reflects on the Seahawks' 48-45 victory over the Lions in a postgame interview with FOX Sports' Jennifer Hale.

Smith's impressive play produced a memorable quote that he had trademarked after Seattle defeated the Denver Broncos in Wilson's return to Seattle: "They wrote me off. I ain't write back though."

Canales detailed to FOX Sports the development of Smith during his time with the Seahawks, when the QB came to Seattle as a free-agent backup quarterback in 2019.

"The first thing he did is he decided to change his footwork," Canales said. "He was the traditional, left-foot-back quarterback. And then he was working on some stuff over the summer, and he put his left foot up and his right foot back, and he said it felt like it calmed his feet down. 

"One of the biggest growth curves for him initially that we had talked about was not being so bouncy on the top of his drop. If you're bouncing your legs, your eyes are bouncing, too. And so, you don't have a clear vision of what's happening down the field, to where you could end up missing a progression."

Smith finally got a chance to put the footwork experiment to work during this past offseason because he got the reps with the starters, smoothing out his drops and his eyes down the field, and then developing a rhythm with receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett

Smith also had to stay in the game from a mental standpoint as a 31-year-old backup quarterback, continuing to work as he waited for his opportunity. 

"There's no harder position I think than the backup quarterback because of your personal expectations," Canales said. "Most of these guys have been The Man. And all of a sudden they're having to try and find value and a role that's contributing to what we're doing, while also knowing they're not going to play, or they might have to go in to play without any reps with these starters. 

"That's why it's so amazing when a backup pops into a game and can throw in rhythm to people he's not really thrown to. What I noticed about Geno over the last three years is he never lost sight of the fact that he was a top-tier talent. And he was going to get another opportunity at some point, somewhere." 

Canales thought that opportunity would be with another team. However, Smith was a free agent after the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and each time he returned to the Seahawks on one-year deals because he didn't find interest as a bridge quarterback for a team drafting a young signal-caller.

Canales said Carroll wanted Smith back for two reasons: his intimate knowledge of Seattle's offense and his ability to push the ball down the field to Seattle's playmakers such as Metcalf and Lockett.

Seattle's improved offensive line play — headed by rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, along with veteran center Austin Blythe — has also benefited Smith. He has been sacked just six times in four games. 

"If you can keep any quarterback in this league clean for three seconds, they will pick you apart," Canales said.

Smith has turned that comfort level into success early on because of his willingness to take easy completions, along with his collaborative relationship with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron in the weekly development of a game plan. 

"The first part is protection," Canales said. "The second part is going back to the footwork thing, really buying into smoothing out his drops and keeping his eyes still and throwing to the first open guy. We don't get past No. 1 if he's open. And he's committed to that, then he progresses to No. 2 and trusts his feet.

"And then Shane has done an unbelievable job of saying, ‘Here's Geno. Here are things he does well. And here are our guys and the things they do well.' And really pairing it down to mixing and matching personnel and formations. Shane has done that at a really high level to put Geno in that comfort zone.

"They are always talking. They talk on Monday, and Geno brings a list in on Tuesday. It's not that all his plays get in, but if we have something similar and Geno has a thought, we'll go with his. The give and take of that relationship, that's really been at the heart of it."

Smith has also benefited from serving as a backup for Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Wilson — three quarterbacks likely headed to the Hall of Fame. 

"Some guys take that for granted, and some guys soak it all up," Canales said. "Geno came here and was like, ‘What Philip would do on this one against this coverage …' He has that special memory."

Smith also brought back that added dimension of running the football from the quarterback position that Wilson had during his early years in this offense. 

"For me, being around Russ for 10 years and then Geno playing now, when you really know a play, you know what it's designed for," Canales said. "And you know this one coverage really gives this concept problems, I'm not going to sit here and try to let it develop. 

"So, if you're thinking like that, your process of elimination gets you to where, ‘Oh, they're doubling everybody, I'm just going to take off.'"

Canales referenced a 12-yard scramble against the Lions as an example of Smith recognizing the coverage, acknowledging that a play is dead in the passing game and using his legs to take advantage of a defense in two-man coverage with players' backs away from the line of scrimmage.

"And also, when you're attacking the line of scrimmage to run, he attacks it with his eyes downfield and doesn't slow up," Canales said. "You're either running or you're not, because these guys are retracing, and they're going to hammer you."

Whether Smith can continue to play at this level for the long haul is up for debate, but for now the Seahawks will take the production. 

"Geno's unwavering belief that he was in the prime of his career got him to this spot," Canales said. "He believed he had so much ball left in him, and he just couldn't wait for an opportunity. And him just staying with the process, working hard. I think that's what I'm most proud of." 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.


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