FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Geno Smith had a little bit of an edge to him, a testiness rarely seen from the New York Jets' quarterback.
No, he wasn't interested in speaking about the past. As far as he's concerned, that's all over with.
He wasn't mean or condescending. He's simply focused, exuding a businesslike approach to the first game of what could be a make-or-break season for him.
"Last year doesn't matter," the second-year quarterback insisted Wednesday.
It was something he repeated a few times during his 10-minute session speaking with reporters. He's all about where he is now as a player, and what he needs to do Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
"This year, I'm a lot more comfortable with the guys around me," he said. "It's a result of working hard and the preparation we've been putting in, the hard work that we put in the classroom and we just have got to stick at it, stay with it.
"Every guy's trusting one another and (that's) a good sign for our football team."
Especially for Smith, who is coming off an up-and-down rookie season in which he set team records with 3,046 yards passing, 247 completions, 443 pass attempts and a 55.8 completion percentage. He also threw just 12 touchdown passes and had an unsightly 21 interceptions, and was benched twice. But he was solid in the final month when he led the Jets to wins in three of their last four games.
The fact Smith ended on the upswing gave the franchise a lot of optimism.
"He worked so hard in the offseason to get where he is right now," coach Rex Ryan said. "Now, it's just, go out and do it. He's got confidence and his whole team has confidence in him. Take off from where you left off, that's all he needs to do."
Despite bringing in Michael Vick in March, the plan all along has been to let Smith prove he can be the guy for the Jets. After a good summer, there's plenty to feel good about as far as Smith goes. He has improved his footwork and his attention to protecting the football, spent endless hours in the film room and appears in control.
The clearest evidence of that is when he looks down the field. No longer is his head spinning, his eyes darting all over desperately trying to spot a receiver. Now, Smith knows the offense better and that has him cool, calm and collected.
"We'll see," Smith said when asked what has been his biggest improvement. "You can say a bunch of things have improved, but you've got 16 games to go out there and prove it and we'll learn from that. We'll see in the next coming days."
Raiders coached Dennis Allen has watched tape on Smith, and he sees a different quarterback than the one who threw for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and also ran for a score in the Jets' 37-27 victory last December.
"I think the quarterback's playing at a high level," Allen said. "He did throughout the preseason."
While Smith declined to flash back to what he was thinking at this time a year ago, Ryan remembers exactly what was going through his mind.
"Come on, running game," Ryan said with a smile. "That's what I was thinking: Let's run that ball."
Ryan acknowledged that he knew it would be a tough go for Smith, who "won" the starting job by default when Mark Sanchez went down with a season-ending shoulder injury last summer. In his first game, Smith had a touchdown pass and an interception, and set up the winning score against Tampa Bay with a run in the closing seconds that drew a personal foul penalty on a late hit.
"There is obviously a much greater sense of confidence that I have in him," Ryan said. "I always thought that this guy could play in the league, but I feel much better about it now."
Outside the facility, the feeling might not be mutual, however. At least, not yet.
There's skepticism as to whether Smith will ever develop into a top-notch starting quarterback. Some preseason rankings also have Smith ranked near the bottom of NFL quarterbacks, largely based on his overall numbers from last season.
But, again, none of that is any concern to Smith these days.
"I'm not focused on what happened last year," Smith said. "It's gone and it's far behind me. The only thing I can focus on is preparing our guys to go out there and fight hard. Today, we had a really good practice. We've got to build off of that tomorrow and so on until Sunday."
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