Jets rookie Devin Smith staying confident despite struggles
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Devin Smith's confidence in himself has been tested several times this season.
Injuries, drops and missed opportunities have all made for a shaky start for the New York Jets rookie wide receiver.
''It's had its ups and downs, but that's just life,'' Smith said Friday. ''It happens to everyone, so I'm just going to take it in stride and keep working every single day to get better, and just know that my opportunity and my time are going to come.''
The Jets drafted the speedster out of Ohio State in the second round, envisioning Smith to add a vertical element to Chan Gailey's offense - a guy who could create mismatches on the outside and come up with big, game-changing plays.
Well, the Jets are still waiting. So is Smith.
He has just seven catches for 82 yards, with his longest play a 22-yard grab against Buffalo two weeks ago. Dropped passes have some fans souring already on Smith, who had two of those in Houston, including a sure-thing 46-yard touchdown that hit his hands and fell to the turf.
''We expect him to come down with that, but he didn't,'' fellow receiver Brandon Marshall said. ''But when you lose or make a bad play, you can't put your head down, and when you make a good play you can't hang from the rafters.''
Smith fumbled away a kick return against the Bills that was returned for a touchdown, another play that chipped away at the self-assurance of a player who oozed it while making one big catch after another in college.
''We've got to keep letting him have the opportunity,'' Gailey said. ''The biggest thing is he was open. If he's open, he'll eventually catch it. I think he just needs to get his confidence back. I haven't lost confidence in him. I've just got to make sure that he keeps confidence in himself.''
Marshall and Eric Decker have taken Smith under their wings, insisting that the young receiver not dwell on his mistakes.
''That's one big thing, not just him but everybody in the locker room (has said), just telling me to keep my confidence up, keep my head up,'' Smith said. ''That's kind of what's been keeping me up is all my teammates rallying around me ...''
Smith needs to learn from his miscues, they tell him, but he can't keep them festering in the back of his mind.
''He got thrown into the deep end fast,'' Marshall said. ''He just hasn't been able to make that one play. But comparing him from the first half of the season to now is night and day.''
Smith missed a large chunk of training camp with broken ribs and a collapsed lung, suffered while making an athletic play during practice.
He spent a few weeks hardly being able to sleep and quickly fell behind in learning the offense because he wasn't physically able to work. By the time Smith came back, it was already Week 3 - and Ryan Fitzpatrick was the quarterback, not Geno Smith, whom the receiver worked with a lot during the summer.
''It hurt a lot,'' Devin Smith said of the missed time. ''A lot of it was timing-wise with the quarterback and receiver and stuff like that and understanding how the offense is supposed to go. But, for now, I feel like I'm caught up and making plays in practice. Now, I've just got to convert it to games.''
Marshall dealt with a similar situation while he was in Chicago, when Alshon Jeffery was slowed by injuries and a lack of production as a rookie. Jeffery finished with just 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games in 2012. The next year, the receiver broke out with 89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven TDs. He had 85 catches, including 10 touchdowns, last year.
''I think the last couple of weeks, he has been getting into a groove in practice,'' Marshall said of Smith. ''You're seeing a better Devin in meetings and practice, taking things we're saying in the film room and transitioning to the field.''
Smith has been targeted 22 times by Fitzpatrick, but 15 came in the rookie's first two games. He was targeted four times against the Texans, but had no catches - and the two drops.
''He was hurt after the game,'' Gailey said, ''but as the week has gone on, he's gone back to work, so that's been a positive.''
Smith insists he knows the offense now. It's all about finishing plays. That means catching passes when they come to him.
''I know my time is coming,'' Smith said. ''So, I'm just going to stay patient and when the opportunity comes, just take advantage of it.
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