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Geno Smith 'Best He's Ever Been,' Seahawks Hoping For Career Resurgence

Citing a former MVP whose finest seasons came in the back half of his career in comparison, Carroll envisions Smith being a "great asset" for Seattle entering the Russell Wilson era.

RENTON, Wash. - When it comes to NFL quarterbacks receiving second chances to become a starter, such opportunities can be rare. That's especially true for players who spend multiple seasons as a backup, as the infusion of young talent into the league each year makes that desired shot at redemption less likely.

Keeping that in mind, in terms of rarified air, Geno Smith being named the Seahawks starter eight years after he last opened a season as a starting quarterback in the NFL is simply unprecedented. Now approaching his 32nd birthday with a matchup against his predecessor Russell Wilson and the Broncos on tap on Monday night, he's taking the opportunity he earned in stride.

"I really can't wait," Smith smiled while speaking with local media on Friday. "I'm excited about the opportunity, but mainly for all the guys to be out there together and get our season started... Personally for me, I don't feel any vindication or anything like that. It's more so just preparing, the same thing I've always done, not making it more than what it is.”

It's been a long, winding road back to being a starting quarterback in the NFL for Smith, who broke into the league as a second-round pick with the Jets in 2013, just one year after the Seahawks selected Wilson in the third round. He became an immediate starter in New York, but with a poor roster around him, he failed to produce in two seasons as a starter, throwing 25 touchdowns compared to 34 interceptions while posting an 11-18 record.

Pressing as a young quarterback folding under the weight of expectations as a high draft pick, Smith struggled to find any semblance of consistency early in his career, setting himself up for failure.

"Back then when I was on the Jets, I felt like I would have a good game and a not-so good game," Smith recalled. "It was very inconsistent, and I think I was able to find some type of consistency in my game and I think that started with my feet, my base in the pocket."

Smith remained the starter entering a critical third season, only for his jaw to be broken in a fight during training camp with linebacker IK Enemkpali. Ruled out for the start of the season, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick took the reins and nearly led the Jets to the playoffs, relegating him to the bench while playing in just one game in 2015. With a chance to redeem himself, he suffered a torn ACL in his lone start the following year, bringing his tenure with the franchise to a miserable conclusion.


Since the Jets let Smith walk seven years ago, the former West Virginia star has bounced around as a backup with the Giants, Chargers, and Seahawks, throwing 101 combined passes from 2017 to 2020. While the opportunity to legitimately compete for a starting job never surfaced at multiple stops, he learned from three established stars in Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Wilson and maintained his belief he would start again someday.

"I’ve never lost confidence in my ability or the things that I can do on the field," Smith reflected. "My first two years I had some really great games and put a lot of great things on tape. But I was able to grow over that course of that time just being with Eli Manning and Philip Rivers and then obviously being here with Russell. All three of them are Hall of Fame quarterbacks in my opinion. And being in the room with those guys and just learning football, being in different football systems, being around different coordinators, I was able to gain a ton of knowledge."

In the midst of his third season as Seattle's backup signal caller a year ago, Smith finally caught the break he needed to show what he could do orchestrating Waldron's offense albeit amid dire circumstances. A finger injury suffered by Wilson in a Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Rams vaulted him into the lineup for his first meaningful snaps in nearly five years.

Playing in four games with a trio of starts, though the team only won one of those contests, Smith completed nearly 70 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception. In the process, he gained the trust of coach Pete Carroll and his teammates by taking great care of the football and giving his team a chance to win every one of the games he played in.

With a fractured relationship between Wilson and the Seahawks reaching a point of no return this spring after years of friction, the organization traded him to the Broncos in March, opening the door wide open for Smith to battle against Drew Lock as his successor. After re-signing on a one-year contract, Carroll immediately pegged him as the favorite due to his familiarity with the offense and reliability playing the point guard role under center.

Blessed with a full offseason receiving starter reps for the first time in almost a decade, Smith maintained separation throughout the competition against Lock from OTAs through the end of the preseason and Carroll officially named him the starter after the exhibition finale in Dallas.

"He is so deep with us now. He knows our stuff really cold," Carroll said of Smith's growth and development compared to earlier in his career. "His timing, his confidence, his command, his ability to anticipate our adjustments and anticipate the situations in football. He's been through so much with us. It’s been four years of intense study and prep. I can’t imagine that he’s not in the best position to own the offense that he’s ever been with all of those years being a benefit for him as well before he got here."

Lauding Smith's arm talent, which helped him break multiple records in the wide-open Big 12 heralding West Virginia's Air Raid offense, Carroll took a spin in the way back machine comparing the quarterback's trajectory to former NFL MVP Rich Gannon.

Unlike Smith, Gannon began his career as a backup with the Vikings - at the time, Carroll was on the staff as a defensive backs coach, admitting he "wasn't very good" - and worked his way into a starting role by his fourth season. The ex-Delaware product posted a winning record in three seasons as a starter, but he didn't emerge as the franchise signal caller the team hoped for and was traded to Washington in 1995.

Over the next five seasons, Gannon started just 13 games with the Redskins and Chiefs, missing the entire 1996 season with a shoulder injury. Entering his mid-30s, his time as a starting quarterback in the league seemed all but finished and he seemed destined to close out his career holding a clipboard.


But out of nowhere, Gannon found new life in the latter stages of his career when he signed with the Raiders as a free agent, teaming up with coach Jon Gruden in a West Coast offense perfectly suited for his strengths as a passer. After throwing 66 touchdowns in his first 12 NFL seasons, he would nearly double that total with 114 over six seasons in Oakland, earning First-Team All-Pro honors twice and winning the 2002 MVP award.

Could Smith have a similar resurgence in Seattle? While nobody should expect deja vu, Carroll has seen the veteran passer in complete control of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's offense this summer. Adding in the plethora of weapons around him, including All-Pro receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett as well as a deep stable of running backs, the ingredients are in place for him to enjoy a Gannon-like revival in his 30s.

"This isn’t like coming in the middle of the season when you don’t think you’re going to get a chance and all of a sudden here you go, midseason, the weather and all the stuff that occurred," Carroll explained. "He’s had all the prep. He’s ready to roll. I would say this is the best Geno has ever been and the best command he’s ever had. It gives him a really good chance to be a great asset for us.”

As for Smith's thoughts beginning this unique opportunity replacing a franchise icon in Wilson by playing against the same player right off the bat, he understands why the homecoming of a future Hall of Famer has been one of the NFL's biggest story lines since the schedule came out in May. Emotions will be riding high for players, coaches, and fans at Lumen Field in what should be an electric atmosphere.

But after everything he has overcome to reach this point, as has been the case throughout his arduous journey back to a starting role, Smith expected to be in this position and he isn't worried about comparing himself to Wilson or becoming the next Gannon. Staying cool and even-keeled in to begin this long-awaited second audition, his sole focus remains on protecting the football, staying within himself while orchestrating the offense, and doing whatever it takes to guide his team to victory.

"I’m not star-struck or anything by this opportunity. I’ve been working my butt off and I think that the work is more important than all of the reflection and all of that type of stuff. It’s about taking care of business. And so obviously I’m thankful and grateful that I know I’ve been working for, and I know there’s more work to be done.”

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