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May 11, 2013

Geno Smith gives himself ‘F’ for first Jets practice

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Geno Smith was surrounded by a throng of reporters, a crowded scene usually more appropriate for a No. 1 draft pick than a second-rounder.

But Smith, of course, isn’t your ordinary No. 39 selection. And, the New York Jets are certainly used to their quarterbacks — and backup quarterbacks, for that matter — getting this type of attention.

“I just come out,” Smith said Friday, “and be my natural self.”

Who that is, exactly, has been open to some debate in recent weeks as Smith has taken lots of criticism for his abilities on the field — despite a record-breaking career at West Virginia University — and his attitude off it. Various published reports painted Smith as an immature diva who didn’t always take football seriously enough.

“Maybe I don’t know what the diva behavior looks like,” coach Rex Ryan said. “I never saw that at all.”

Smith’s free fall from potential top-10 pick, and his reported decision — and later, change of heart — to leave New York rather than return to the draft site at Radio City Music Hall added to the perception. As did Smith firing his two agents shortly after the draft.

He’s done with all that. Still without an agent, Smith is ready to move on to football again.

“I think it’s been a more eventful few weeks for the media,” Smith said. “My only job is to focus on what I have here and get better.”

And there’s plenty to do, if you ask Smith, who said all the right things after his first practice of rookie minicamp.

“I’m going to be tough on myself,” Smith said. “I’ll let the coaches do the grading, but if I say it, it’s an F because I want to be an A-plus.

“Hey man, that’s just the way I do things.”

Despite the tough self-evaluation, the quarterback looked pretty good during practice. Smith appeared to have a solid working knowledge of the playbook, and zipped many of his passes — mostly in short yardage — around the field.

“I’ve been studying my butt off, learning formations, learning protections,” said Smith, wearing No. 7 because his old No. 12 from his college days is Joe Namath’s retired number. “I think I did a good job overall today. There were some bumps in the road. Those are things I think I can clean up.”

He also worked under center most of the time, something he wasn’t used to doing during his time at West Virginia. Smith hesitated a few times on some throws, and was even yelled at by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg for failing to pull off a play-action bootleg pass.

Rookie jitters? Smith won’t go there.

“There are no excuses here,” Smith said. “We’ve all got to study our playbooks and be prepared for practice. If he felt like I needed to pick things up, then he’ll get on me, which he did. I’m receptive to that, and I did what he asked of me.”

Yes, the man some outside the Jets organization anonymously labeled as not very coachable said all the right things after practice, appearing humble and clear of his role on the team.

While many assume that will be to someday become the Jets’ starting quarterback, Smith refused to look too far ahead.

“I have a job to do as of right now, and that’s to come in and compete,” he said. “Right now, there’s a long ways to go in that process. This is only Step 1, Day 1, but it was fun to get out here on the practice field and enjoy my teammates and coaches.”

The plan is to have Smith compete for the starting job this summer with Mark Sanchez and David Garrard, as well as Greg McElroy and Matt Simms — although those two likely have no realistic shot at winning it. Smith said he was told that Sanchez will get “the majority of the reps” in training camp.

“I know Mark is a competitor, and I understand Mark wants to win the job,” Smith said. “We all do. But at the same time, I’m going to learn from him and David and Greg.”

He already impressed his fellow rookie teammates on offense by getting together with several of them at the players’ hotel Thursday night and going over the playbook.

“I think that’s great,” Ryan said. “It’s unusual the way he commanded the huddle. And the fact he’s already telling guys (instructions), that’s pretty sharp.”

Smith has also studied former quarterbacks such as Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb, trying to get an even better handle on Mornhinweg’s West Coast offense.

So, Smith says, the critics can keep on talking about him. He has better things to worry about.

“I don’t resent any of it,” Smith said. “I don’t pay attention to any of it. I just focus on what I can control and that’s being a Jets quarterback, being a great teammate and just getting better as a quarterback daily.”

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