To say Geno Smith has had to exercise patience during his NFL career would be a pretty significant understatement.
Yes, Smith began his career as a starter for the Jets after a standout career at West Virginia, but after losing his starting job under very unusual circumstances—he was punched by a teammate during training camp in 2015, breaking his jaw, leading to Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over the starting job—his second chance to start never came.
So despite his considerable talents, Smith stayed patient, kept preparing, and kept serving as a backup quarterback, and particularly thankless job when you are playing behind Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson, as Smith has been since leaving the Jets.
"It was hard, I would be lying to you if I said it wasn't hard," Smith said of his career journey. "Having that ultimate faith in myself, my ability, and my preparation, then I had to just dig deep and say forget it, I'm just going to work and be the best I can be every single day while not worrying about the outside factors. I had to do whatever it takes to get better and be ready for the opportunity."
With Russell Wilson recovering from last week's finger injury that required surgery, that opportunity is here for Smith, who will make his first start since the 2017 season, and who will, assuming Wilson misses more than one game, see the most playing time of his career since he was the Jets' starter in 2014.
"It means everything, but it's not about me, it's about the team," Smith said of getting this shot. "Going out there together all as one unit, the offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff, front office, and everybody. It's about doing what's best for the team. It's not about me at all. Obviously, it's a great opportunity but my mindset is focused on winning and doing what is best for the team."
And as Smith showed when he came into last week's game and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, the Seahawks offense should be in good hands for however long Wilson is out.
"I was really pleased that he was able to go out on the field the other night and play so well, because he hasn't had many opportunities," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Not that it was a surprise, but I was pleased for him and happy for us, knowing that we need him. Geno has a really good position on this team. He has been highly thought of by the organization, by his teammates, and the fans responded too. We are grateful that he has been with us. Now that it's his time to do this and has a chance to help the club, I couldn't be more excited for him. He's going to be really tuned in, he's really smart with the scheme and system, really sharp in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage, and is really good at all of that. He gives himself every chance to have a good performance and help us win."
And while Smith would have preferred his chance to start came years earlier, and for that matter under better circumstances, he does feel like all of the time he has spent biding his time as a backup has helped him improve from where he was as a young starter in 2013 and 2014.
"I think the biggest growth came with just being patient and that's with all things," Smith said. "I'm here, knowing I have the capability to play in this league but not getting that opportunity for a number of years was a test for patience. That also goes for playing quarterback on the field. I feel like when I was younger and coming out of college, we put up so many points that I was so used to scoring all of the time so that was my mentality. In the NFL, you aren't going to score every time and that's just the reality. I'm a lot more patient now with my reads and my footwork is the biggest difference maker to me. My footwork has gotten a lot better, and I think it's paying off in the game."
All of that patience and preparation paid off in a strong performance last week, with Smith leading a 98-yard touchdown drive immediately after taking over for Wilson, and after the game Smith heard from a lot of people who were happy to see him get an opportunity and take advantage, a group of well-wishers that included former Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"I had so many text messages and people calling me which were all good things," Smith said. "It was pretty cool to see. Schotty texted me, I was eager to see that text from Schotty and all of my coaches from the past. They all texted me and all know how hard I've been working. They all were excited for me to get this opportunity."
And based off of not just what Smith showed last week, but what he has shown on a daily basis since joining the Seahawks in 2019, the Seahawks are fully confident that the offense is in good hands even with its Pro-Bowl quarterback sidelined by an injury.
"He's more than ready," receiver Tyler Lockett said. "He's eager to get things going, eager to go out there and play. When you're playing behind a quarterback (like Wilson), you don't really get the chance to go out there and play as much. When you do get your opportunity, that's what you've been waiting for, so you want to go out there and make it happen. You want to be able to prove to yourself, not just everybody else, you want to prove to yourself that you can still play. You still belong here. You're still as great as what everybody saw when you were growing up, when you were out there in Morgantown balling in the Big 12, all the way to when you got to the league. We believe that Geno can get it done."
Added tight end Gerald Everett, "I've got the utmost confidence in Geno. It's unfortunate for Russ, that's our leader. He's been here a long time, won a boatload of games, but Russ will do his thing, and he'll be back fast, playing at a high level like he always does. We all have confidence in Geno. As you all saw, on couple of those drives he took the offense down the field and took the team by the horns, and just kept doing it."
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