New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) throws against the Buffalo Bills during the second half of an NFL football game in Detroit, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Smith is getting another shot as the New York Jets' starting quarterback. The team announced Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014 that Smith, benched the last three games in favor of Michael Vick, will be under center against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey — Marty Mornhinweg was a bit thrown off by the question, the one that many fans and media think has long been answered.
Can Geno Smith be a franchise quarterback for the New York Jets?
"That one surprises me just a little," the Jets' offensive coordinator said with a puzzled look Friday. "Everybody develops at different paces. Sure we all — I know that fans, certainly — and I would like to see development much quicker. It hasn't quite happened like that."
Smith has 31 interceptions and six lost fumbles in his two seasons, but Mornhinweg has seen quarterbacks develop at different rates and some need as many as four years to really fulfill their potential.
"There is no question," Mornhinweg said, "that Geno can be a fine quarterback in this league."
Smith was benched for three games in favor of Michael Vick, but coach Rex Ryan announced Wednesday that Smith would start against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
The move surprised some players, who thought Vick might start the rest of the season as the Jets (2-9) play out their final five games.
"I think this is a pretty good time to get a young quarterback restarted," Mornhinweg said. "We had him take a step back and look at the big picture and continue his development."
Ryan has called the move "a Jet decision," and he wasn't swayed by general manager John Idzik — or anyone else — to turn back to Smith. Mornhinweg also denied a published report that he preferred to continue to start Vick.
"Got to roll with him," linebacker Calvin Pace said of Smith. "I don't make that call. I believe in him. So we'll see on Monday. Whoever the guy is, that's who we've got to go with."
It wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but why does Pace believe in Smith?
"One, I really don't have a choice," he said. "Two, he's got the tools. He's just got to believe in himself and go out there and execute and do what Marty tells him to do, and just make some plays."
Smith was benched last month in a 43-23 loss to Buffalo, and Vick started the next three games and turned the ball over just once, against the Bills last Monday night. He also helped the Jets end an eight-game skid with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers three weeks ago.
"Really, it has little to do with Mike's play," Mornhinweg said. "Mike has played pretty well, you know in the Pittsburgh game. He has done some very, very good things for us. We have talked about this before, I think I mentioned it once or twice, when Geno gets his next opportunity, I was trying to hint that we would be in this situation at some point, even back then, that we would expect him to play at a high level."
Before the benching, Smith had started every game in his NFL career after Mark Sanchez went down with a season-ending shoulder injury last preseason. He had an up-and-down rookie year, finishing with a solid final month that had the organization optimistic that their second-round draft pick could be the guy for years to come.
The Jets signed Vick in the offseason, mostly as insurance, and gave Smith every opportunity to take the next step in his progression and prove himself to be a franchise quarterback. After mistakes and turnovers sent him to the sideline, Smith didn't sulk, but instead used the time to get even more comfortable with things.
"I've always felt like that's been something that's been growing, just an overall understanding of the game, our offense, just everything in general," Smith said. "My complete control of the offense is something that's continually growing and I've got to continue to work at it. I feel a lot more comfortable now than I was maybe a few weeks before. But, obviously, you've got to go out there and prove it on the field."
To many, though, the book on Smith is closed with the Jets — no matter how he finishes. Sure, there are flashes of playmaking and potential, but fans have already taken to sports talk radio and social media to debate whether the best move in the offseason will be to sign a free agent quarterback or draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.
So, when Smith steps on the field Monday night, he needs to prove himself all over again. And, he could get the final five games to do it.
"I would anticipate that, and hope that's the case," Ryan said of sticking with Smith for the final month. "But we'll see."
Smith, meanwhile, insists he's not worried about any of that.
"I can't be focused on what'll happen here down the line because that'll sidetrack me from what's really important," he said, "which is going out there and playing the game."
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.