FLORHAM PARK: Every now and again, Devin Smith is reminded of what happened on the Jets practice fields over a month ago.
It could be when he reaches for something just a tad out of range, or when he bends down for something else. It’s not a regular occurrence anymore, but Smith will still occasionally feel that sharp pain shoot up the left side of his back where he fractured his ribs and punctured his lung.
“There’s really nothing you can do other than rest,” Smith said Monday. “I don’t have a timetable. It’s one of those things you’ve gotta just wait until you’re healthy.”
Selected in the second round of this year’s draft, Smith was viewed as a player that was going to bring a dimension to the Jets offense that team didn’t have: Speed. While the Jets already had a player in Eric Decker that is viewed as one of the game’s best route runners, and another in Brandon Marshall who has been one of the game's best No. 1's, the team really didn't have someone capable of stretching the field. During his four-year career at Ohio State, that's just about all Smith did.
The 6-1, 197 pound wideout averaged 20.7 yards per catch in the 53 games he appeared in. As a senior, Smith caught 33 passes for 931 yards and a career-high 12 touchdowns. HIs average yards per reception that year? A staggering 28.2.
"I feel like I'm that big-play guy," Smith said. "When you put (me, Decker, Marshall) together, we're gonna help each other and make plays for this football team. Right now, I'm trying to fill my role and help this team in anyway I can. If that means go deep all the time, that's what I'll do."
Throughout the early portions of the Jets offseason workouts, Smith was making big play, after big play. It was a relatively common occurrence that at some point, he'd get behind the defense. Even on the play Smith was injured he made a highlight-reel catch.
In an 11-on-11 drill, Smith got behind Jets cornerback Marcus Williams and quarterback Geno Smith threw it his way. With the ball underthrown, Smith jumped up in the air while coming back for the ball. The ball deflected off Williams' helmet, and Smith pulled it in before crashing to the ground. The fall fractured Smith's ribs, and punctured one of his lungs. The injury was so significant that doctors originally feared they'd have to put a tube in Smith's lung.
"I couldn't breath," Smith said. "When I stood up, that's when the entire pain went through my left side."
After hitting the ground, Smith said he thought he'd just had the wind knocked out of him. It was until he walked off to the sideline and raised his arms that an excruciating pain shot up his left side that caused Smith's knees to buckle and him to fall to the ground. Further X-Rays revealed the full extent of the injury.
Since then, Smith has been working his way back to the field. He spent a few days in the hospital, went back to practice as an observer, then jogged a bit and now, this week, has started doing individual drills. The goal for Smith has always been to return by Week 1, but he, and the coaching staff too, are "realistic."
"We're not gonna know until he gets hit, or blocks somebody, then we'll get a better idea of where he is" Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. "I don't think it's going to be too long, but I don't know if it's going to be this week."
Smith said he hasn't yet gotten the word if he's been fully-cleared for contact because the Jets, who practiced for the first time in preparation of the Browns on Monday, haven't been in full pads. He expects that news to be coming soon, but Smith wanted to be honest in saying he won't return to the field until he's fully healed. The last thing the rookie wants to do is rush back, then be sidelined again.
"I'm not going to risk myself going out there and hurting myself again," Smith said. "Right now, it's just a wait and see. If I feel 100 percent, I'm going out there. If I'm not, I'm not. (The Doctors) are letting me practice a little more than usual, and do some more stuff. I'm going to see how it goes by the end of the week.
"If I'm healthy, and I get the clearance, I know I can come in and help the team Week 1 anyway I can."
This article will also appear in Saturday's edition of The Journal Inquirer