Geno Smith ran a lap on Tuesday as penance for fumbling twice in practice, but on Friday he was not running from accountability for his turnovers and a preseason-opening performance below his standard.
“I could have been better,” Smith told the Daily News of his Giants debut one week ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I don’t think I really played up to the caliber that I expect, but also knowing it’s my first game back since my knee injury, all the things that go into that, you can never be sure about how you’re gonna feel or how you’re gonna go out there and be on game day.
“But I was very excited that I was able to get through my reads fast. I was seeing things fast,” Smith continued. “I wasn’t nervous or anything. I didn’t hesitate. I was pulling the trigger. Now it’s about cleaning up those little details and making sure I improve for the next game.”
Smith’s next opportunity to prove he deserves to be Eli Manning’s backup will come Monday night in Cleveland, but Manning will start the game, and Smith again will be splitting series with Josh Johnson and perhaps Davis Webb, too, so he’ll need to make his limited time on the field count.
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That goes especially after Ben McAdoo sent a message to Smith and Johnson on Thursday that if the backup QB battle “doesn’t look the way we want it to look, Davis will get a crack” at the No. 2 job.
“It doesn’t affect what I do on a daily basis,” Webb said Friday. “The past two days I’ve gotten a lot more team reps as far as the scout settings as well as just team periods. So I’ve just been happy with the amount of reps I’ve gotten, and I think I’ve gotten better every single one.”
Smith already knew himself, though, that he needs to play better to earn the job and McAdoo’s trust.
The former Jets second-round pick came out firing in his first drive against the Steelers last week, completing his first three throws, hitting 10-of-16 passes for 114 yards and rushing twice for five yards. But he also threw an interception before halftime called back due to a Pittsburgh holding penalty, got picked off again in the third quarter to give the Steelers the ball at the Giants’ own 14-yard line, and then in Tuesday’s practice fumbled both a snap for a safety and a handoff exchange with rookie running back Wayne Gallman.
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Turnovers are the greatest threat to Smith losing this competition. While Smith was more decisive in the opener than his competition, the veteran incumbent Johnson (5-for-10, 31 yards) didn’t turn the ball over. Smith can’t replicate his erratic 28-to-36 Jets TD-to-INT ratio this preseason and expect to stick with the Giants.
He seems to understand that clearly.
“You just try and be mindful all the time that you can’t have turnovers, obviously, and not put the team in bad situations,” he said. “(But) I focus on how I look in practice, what I put on tape on game day, and the way I interact with my teammates and coaches, more so than any negativity or something that could be bad.”
Why focus on the negative, anyway, when Smith is so encouraged about how healthy he finally feels?
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Smith, 26, tore the ACL in his right knee last October as a Jet and endured a long rehab just to earn the opportunity for a second chance with the Giants. That’s why, in a nearly unprecedented but understandable comment, this young quarterback on Friday actually said the first hit he took in the Pittsburgh game “was awesome.”
Smith didn’t mean that he liked taking a sack. But after reflexively dancing out of the way of a hit by Pittsburgh linebacker L.J. Fort on the previous play, perhaps subconsciously protecting his knee, Smith felt refreshed to take a sack from corner Mike Hilton and get back up no worse for wear.
“That was good. I needed that. That first hit was awesome,” Smith said with a smile. “Not because I got hit, but because I was able to get up and shake it off. Those are things you can’t really predict until it happens. My trainer in California called. He was very excited. He said, ‘You looked like you moved around well, you held up to some hits.’ I try not to get hit, but if it happens you should be stable.”
Health, of course, won’t be enough for Geno to make this team. He’ll have to play better, including in what promises to be an emotional and nerve-wracking third preseason test against his former Jets teammates on Aug. 26 at MetLife Stadium.
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But first thing’s first: Smith needs to play a clean game Monday night against the Browns. And if he does that, his strong arm and decisive play could force McAdoo to lean toward Geno as Blue’s full-time backup for 2017.
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