Mehta: Geno prepared to take the starting job and run with it

Geno Smith's ability to run can help make him a more dynamic quarterback.Robert Sabo/New York Daily News Geno Smith’s ability to run can help make him a more dynamic quarterback.

Geno Smith’s most valuable lesson in his turbulent rookie season was discovering a rarely used body part: his legs.

For all the complexities attached to absorbing an NFL playbook and deciphering defensive schemes, Smith’s most important decision was embracing the power of his mobility.

The Jets quarterback has never fashioned himself as a runner. He was a pocket passer who lit up college scoreboards with regularity, an athlete who let his arm do the talking for four quarters. When Smith slipped into the rookie abyss midway through last season, he had an epiphany (brought on by a gentle push from his coaches): When things don’t look quite right, tuck the ball and take off.

Smith’s willingness to run made all the difference during the Jets’ final four-game stretch, an eye opener for a player who finally utilized his full repertoire above — and below — his shoulders. He had 43% of his rushes during that span, picking up six yards per attempt with three touchdowns to help the Jets win three of their final games.

He fully embraced that facet of the game in the offseason.

“Now I think it’s a lot more natural,” Smith said Wednesday. “It’s a result of knowing my reads a lot better, understanding defenses and ways to get in and out of the pocket a lot better. I’m seeing things better as well. My vision is really good right now. So I just got to keep that up and continue to make smart plays.”

That late-season success on the ground raises the question of whether Smith’s scrambling will stunt his growth as a passer. Smith, who had a league-low 66.5 passer rating last season, has plenty of work to do in the pocket, but Rex Ryan insisted that the young quarterback’s ability to escape trouble with his legs is an invaluable dimension as he learns to play the position. Smith finished with 366 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

“The guys that pick their shots when to run are so important,” Ryan told the Daily News. “I think it’s huge for you. Aaron Rodgers is the first guy that jumps out to me. You also got the guys that run zone reads like (Colin) Kaepernick and (Russell Wilson). It is hard to defend guys that can move. That’s an advantage that Geno has over a lot of quarterbacks in this league.”

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will dial up the occasional zone-read play, but Rodgers and Andrew Luck, known as athletic pocket passers with a knack for picking up yards on the ground, should be the model for Smith.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiHoward Simmons/New York Daily News Smith, normally a pocket passer, is embracing his mobility as a weapon to help the offense.

Rodgers, who has four 4,000-yard passing seasons on his resume, has averaged 4.5 rushing attempts per game and 4.7 yards per rush in his six seasons as Green Bay’s full-time starter. Luck has averaged 3.9 attempts per game and 5.1 yards per rush along with nine rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons.

“It’s a part of being a quarterback,” Smith said of using his legs. “I hate the fact that people always say pocket passer versus running. I understand why they say it, but a quarterback is a quarterback. You got to do what it takes to win whether it’s run or pass. Obviously, if there’s a pass and a guy’s there, we hit it, we take it. If not, pull it down and get some extra yards.”

Smith’s transition from West Virginia’s spread system to Mornhinweg’s complex West Coast principles was far from seamless. He spent much of his rookie season sharpening footwork and absorbing a playbook for the first time. Like with most rookie quarterbacks, analyzing defenses was an arduous task.

Former quarterback Donovan McNabb, who played for Mornhinweg in Philly, cautioned against Smith relying too much on his legs instead of thoroughly going through progressions. McNabb, a six-time Pro Bowler, averaged five carries and 6.4 yards per rush in his first five seasons before drawing criticism for curtailing his scrambles. He averaged only 2.75 rush attempts (and 4.6 yards per rush) in his final eight seasons. McNabb credited his growth as a quarterback to an increased trust and reliance on his supporting cast.

“That’s what Geno will begin to realize,” McNabb recently told The News. “It’s not just about the running. Yeah, the crowd gets excited when you get out of the pocket and pick up yards with your legs, but it’s not about that. It’s about if guys are open, deliver the ball to them and make them work for you.”

McNabb makes sense in a vacuum, but Smith needs to use every physical gift at his disposal at this stage of his career to help the Jets end a three-year playoff drought.

Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

Running has its privileges.

What Next?

Recent Articles

Leave a Reply

You must be Logged in to post comment.