Fitzpatrick's return 'adds fuel to the fire' for Jets' Smith
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Geno Smith went from starting quarterback to backup - again - the moment Ryan Fitzpatrick walked through the door - finally - with a new deal.
For the last several months, Smith was in the awkward position of technically being the starter while Fitzpatrick and the Jets were locked in a contract stalemate. On Wednesday night, Fitzpatrick changed all that by agreeing to a one-year, $12 million deal and reclaiming his job.
''I mean, I'm not disappointed,'' Smith said after the Jets' first training camp practice on Thursday. ''I'm kind of pissed off, but it's not a detrimental thing. It's not something where I'm pissed off at anyone because we all want to be out there.''
Instead, Smith will again be relegated to a backup role behind Fitzpatrick.
''That just adds fuel to the fire,'' Smith said, ''but not in a negative way. I don't want that to become a headline or something like that because it's not what I'm trying to say. It's more as a competitor, as a quarterback, knowing what I'm capable of and really believing in myself, knowing the work that I've put in over the offseason, you know, you want to be out there.
''But you've just got to kind of play the cards that you're dealt, control what you can control and continue to get better.''
Simply, Smith is motivated and humbled.
A year ago, he was preparing to be the starter with Fitzpatrick as his backup. A punch from then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali broke Smith's jaw in the locker room last August, putting Fitzpatrick in position to claim the job.
Fitzpatrick galvanized the locker room, set the franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and got New York within a victory of the playoffs. Smith, meanwhile, was left as a spectator with an uncertain future.
As the contract situation with Fitzpatrick dragged on this offseason, Smith moved closer to being the starter again. He immediately slipped a spot on the depth chart when the Jets re-signed Fitzpatrick, making the deal official shortly before practice Thursday.
''I kind of always knew that was a possibility,'' Smith said. ''So, it was not like one of those shocking things. We always knew that was going on.''
Smith is in the last year of his rookie deal after being drafted in the second round out of West Virginia in 2013. That means he could be a free agent next offseason if the Jets choose to not re-sign him.
''I'm auditioning for this team and 31 other teams in the NFL,'' he said. ''The way that you handle all of this says something about yourself and your character. I've got little kids back home watching to see how I react and everyone's going to see how I react. I'm not going to allow this situation - because it's not the worst situation I've been in - to deter me from my ultimate goal.''
He started as a rookie after Mark Sanchez was injured in the preseason and also held that role in 2014. Smith was inconsistent throughout, showing flashes of being a playmaker mixed with shortcomings consistent with a young quarterback.
In three seasons, Smith has thrown 27 touchdown passes and 35 interceptions. He has looked increasingly more comfortable working in Chan Gailey's offense, and some have wondered if Smith would be able to thrive, as Fitzpatrick did, if he were the starter.
''I really don't want to talk about how much better I am,'' Smith said. ''I'd rather go out there and prove it on the field. Nothing that I can say to the media, to you guys in front of cameras, that can be written will show that. I have to go out there and play when the time comes and it's got to show between the white lines.''
Brandon Marshall has been supportive of Smith since they spent time together as roommates last offseason. While Marshall set team records with 109 catches and 1,502 yards receiving with Fitzpatrick throwing to him last season, the veteran receiver has been impressed with how Smith has handled himself.
''Geno's done an amazing job developing as a man off the field, a leader and a teammate,'' Marshall said. ''Like I've said before, when this kid gets his opportunity, he's not going to look back.''
Until that day, Smith will continue to look forward, preparing as if he'll be a starting quarterback again.
''If didn't do that, I would be doing myself a great disservice,'' Smith said. ''I know how far along I've come since the time I walked into this building for the first time. But like I said, that remains to be seen.''
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