QB Smith knows much of Jets' season hinges on his progress

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) The quarterback remains the question for the New York Jets.

The defense is revamped, the offense reloaded. Now, it's time for Geno Smith to step up. And, he knows it.

''I believe that we all have to take the next step, we all have to raise our level of play and me, as the quarterback, my game has got to be on point every single week,'' Smith said Wednesday. ''I have to be on top of my game mentally and physically, so it's something that we all know.''

Veteran guard Willie Colon said about as much recently during a radio interview, comparing the new-look Jets to a Porsche and Smith being handed the keys.

''He can't crash it,'' Colon said. ''Bottom line.''

Colon said he ''misspoke'' with his comments, which included him saying Smith wasn't ready to become the starter in 2013 when he was forced into the role when Mark Sanchez was lost for the season. He meant to stick up for Smith, he said, and the two huddled up and discussed the remarks.

''I talk to Willie a lot and we talk a lot about team camaraderie and what we can do to help out this locker room by not saying things in the media,'' Smith said. ''Willie is a veteran player, so he understands this and mostly I thought what he said was the right thing to say - just not in that text. So, I don't see anything wrong with it.''

Yes, Smith acknowledged, there is some onus on him to be better than the quarterback who has thrown 34 interceptions and turned the ball over 41 times total in his first two seasons. It's a critical time in Smith's development. He could see his career take off or sputter badly.

Smith plans to gather several of his wide receivers, tight ends and running backs in Chicago to continue to work during the break between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp in late July. Chicago was the agreed-upon site, mostly to accommodate wide receiver Brandon Marshall, acquired in a trade from the Bears in March. Soon after becoming teammates, Smith and Marshall started working out together, bonding quickly in Florida.

''I am the host, Geno is the leader,'' Marshall said. ''For me, I just had some babies, and it's tough for me to get to Florida right now. My wife feels more comfortable in Chicago, so I just asked the guys if they were comfortable coming there, and they said yes.''

Smith will enter training camp as the starter, but Ryan Fitzpatrick could unseat him - if he's completely healthy after suffering a season-ending broken leg last year. Fitzpatrick also is familiar with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's system from their time together in Buffalo.

But Smith's athletic abilities are tantalizing - if not a tease. He has been inconsistent throughout his first two seasons, with signs at times of a playmaking quarterback with athleticism mixed with turnover-filled performances that frustrate fans and lead to losses. The offseason lends itself to chatter, with even minor comments providing headlines - Colon's ''Porsche'' comparison a case in point. That's something Smith has been forced to get used to.

''I think you have to have an understanding, and I think that I do,'' he said. ''I understand that there's not much to talk about around this time so any little thing is going to stir up some type of talking to media and that's fine. You guys have to do your jobs and we're just focused on what we need to be focused on.''

Smith started minicamp with three interceptions Tuesday, causing collective groans on Twitter from fans. But Smith followed it up with a fantastic practice Wednesday, looking sharp throughout, including a pretty 70-yard TD toss to Walter Powell, who beat Darrelle Revis on the play.

''He's very athletic and he throws the ball with a lot of velocity,'' quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo said. ''I don't think people realize that. That's good and you need to be able to do that, get it out quick. He's got good, quick feet and we like to be in the shotgun, so that's good. It kind of matches up well right now. He's got some of those physical tools that we like.''

It's that consistency, though, that the Jets need to see. Smith acknowledged that he has a long way to go in getting the offense down completely, but feels good about how he has picked it up so far.

''Having a good quarterback obviously has a direct correlation to winning in this league,'' Smith said. ''That's something that I work extremely hard to get myself in position to go out there and be on top of my game every single week.''

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AP NFL websites: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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