FLORHAM PARK, NJ - The Jets began voluntary OTAs on Wednesday morning in Florham Park without quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. While negotiations with the 33-year-old journeyman occur behind closed doors, and the status still uncertain, business was usual for Geno Smith, who turned some heads during team drills throughout the day.
This is another opportunity for Smith to prove to the organization he is a capable starter or at least a competent backup in the NFL. From there, Smith's challenge is to assert himself on the Jets quarterback depth chart ahead of Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.
While it is easy to jump to conclusions this early in the season, it was evident that Smith had an edge surrounding his game during OTAs. A noticeable zip on his passes and window-tight throws showed how much work has been put in since last training camp. On numerous occassions, Smith established a connection with receivers like Quincy Enunwa and Jace Amaro. Everybody sees a difference in Smith.
"[Geno] has come a long way," said offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. "You can tell by the questions he asks, by the responses to questions we ask him, and what he sees on film. He has done a good job of learning from last season and this past offseason."
The physical ability was always there for Smith. His arm strength and accuracy were never the question. Jets fans saw glimpses of Smith's potential during spurts in 2013 and 2014, but critics consistently doubted Smith's mental toughness.
"Mentally, he's ahead of where he was last season, he's doing some good things," said Gailey.
Aside from the physical aspect, part of being quarterback also occurs between the ears. If the signal caller fails to exude a combination of confidence, competitiveness, and leadership, the results can be shown negatively on the field.
"I am working on myself," said Smith. "I feel like I am trying to get better in practice and every opportunity on the field in front of our teammates and coaches are an opportunity to build this team and prove yourself."
Though the verdict is still unclear on whether or not Fitzpatrick will be under center for the 2016, Smith knows he can only control the way he performs while focusing on the opportunity that is in front of him. As of now, the window is wide open.
"I have to relish every moment I have on the football field," said Smith. "I have to focus on becoming the player I want to be and it's important - as a team - to take advantage of every rep we can get. That's our goal."
With Petty and Hackenberg looming, another challenge Smith faces is composure. Not only will he have to face pressure during games but beforehand on the practice field during the summer.
"Geno does what he always does," said head coach Todd Bowles. "If you worry about what's behind you, you won't focus on what's in front of you."
To which Smith responded: "I'm only focused on the future."
*** Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)