The Times West Virginian

February 27, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Smith thinks he’s worthy of high pick

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — You are an NFL general manager and you need a quarterback in the NFL draft.

Is West Virginia University’s Geno Smith your man?

There’s pressure on you to make the right move.

You are making your choice after Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson came into the NFL a year earlier and with visions in Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow of what it’s like when you make the wrong choice still vividly evident.

You watched all the film you could ever ask for of Geno Smith, the college quarterback, and you saw two different players. There were games when he was a top-five pick and games when you wouldn’t dare use a first-round pick on him.

You probably decided with NFL coaching he can become the quarterback who hit Stedman Bailey on those wonderful deep patterns consistently while finding Tavon Austin off in the flat where he could shake loose from a linebacker or safety and turn a 4-yard pass into a 40-yard touchdown.

You weren’t worried about the arm or the accuracy.

But what of the person? What of the intellect, the attitude, the confidence?

Could he handle the heat that comes with playing quarterback in the NFL, the microscope under which the media places him, and could he become the NFL quarterback of the future, the kind of quarterback who could run the standard pro offense along with the emerging zone-read system that is spreading through the league?

Let me tell you … he can do it all, and he let those who will be making those decisions know that in no uncertain terms.

“I think I have the skill set that fits any offense,” Smith said to the media at the NFL Scouting Combine last Friday. “I can play within the pocket, but I’m athletic enough to run that style of offense.”

Don’t get him wrong. It isn’t begging to play in that style of offense.

“I have the ability to. I don’t think that’s my game. I don’t think my game is predicated around that. If a coach wants me to, I’ll definitely be all for it.”

As if to emphasize that, he went out and ran at 4.59 40, making him the fastest quarterback on the grounds.

So read that!

In truth, Smith knows what he possesses. He was at the head of the class in high school and he was at the head of the class in college, and there is little debate that he’s at the head of this draft class, although how that stacks up against other draft classes diminishes that to some degree.

Or does it?

“I’m totally confident in my abilities,” Smith said. “I’m not cocky or trying to say I’m this all-world player right now, because I have many areas where I need to grow. But I do feel like I have a great, tremendous skill set and that I have an opportunity to showcase that.

“You can watch the tape and see all the throws I make. Obviously, I can make every throw on the field. That still needs to be improved. Inconsistency is something that I struggled with, I believe. ... Overall, I believe my skill set is one that is tailored for any offense.”

This is so typical of the quarterback we came to know in Morgantown, supremely confident yet fully aware that there is room to grow … understanding that he is no different than any other college graduate stepping off into the professional world, knowing there is so much to learn about the profession of his choice be it engineering, teaching, reporting or, yes, quarterbacking.

The difference is that those careers give you a lifetime to learn about them, while you have the summer as a quarterback.

Even before he performed at the NFL combine — which some quarterbacks in the past have skipped — Smith was certain that he was the best there was this year, and he wasn’t about to buy that it mattered what kind of quarterback class this one was.

Asked in a radio interview if he believed he was at the top, he offered a straightforward answer.

“Yes I do,” he said. “That’s no disrespect to anyone, but I consider myself one of the best at what I do. You talk about this class and there are some great guys out there, but my goal is to always separate myself from the rest of the group and my goal is to be the best wherever I am.

“Once I go to the next level I’m going to compete, going to work, and my goal is going to be to be the best in the NFL. I just want to make sure people know that I have a goal, I have ambitions, and I’m going to work until I get there.

“I’m not a guy who is cocky or over the top with it,” he continued. “I’m a very humble guy, quiet, and I keep to myself, but when it comes down to football, this is something that I love to do, and quite honestly, I want to be the best at it.”

You listen to that, add it to what you’ve seen, and there really isn’t any reason not to select Geno Smith in the first round of the NFL draft.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.