The competition between Geno Smith and Josh Johnson for the No. 2 quarterback job with the New York Giants ratchets up a notch Friday night. Both veterans are expected to see significant playing time in the Giants’ preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There has really been little to separate the two players thus far during training camp. Both have been inconsistent, throwing well at times and poorly at times. Both have shown an ability to make plays with their legs when necessary. I have actually taken to calling them GenoJohnsonJoshSmith.
In my most recent 53-man roster projection, I chose Smith over Johnson. Here’s why:
Smith is running around well, playing without a brace on his surgically-repaired knee. He’s 26, has some upside and — while it wasn’t very productive — at least he’s played some real honest-to-goodness football over the past few years. Johnson has not taken a meaningful snap in six years. If Smith is healthy, at least there’s a chance he could do something productive in the short term.
Which of the two will start Friday, and should anything be read into that? Which one will play better? Will one emerge as the clear leader for the role of backup to Eli Manning?
Both players spoke to the media on Wednesday. Let’s summarize what they said.
After four less than successful seasons with the New York Jets — a 12-18 record as a starter, only 28 touchdown passes compared to 36 interceptions, playing in only three games the past two seasons, having his maturity questioned and his jaw broken by a teammate’s fist, a season-ending knee injury in his only 2016 start — the 26-year-old is trying to re-start his career.
Yet, Smith doesn’t look at being with the Giants as a new chapter in his career.
“It’s still chapter one. We’re still working, still getting better. It’s not that kind of thing for me. I’m always focused on football,” Smith said. “I don’t look at the outside storylines, any of that. This is a game that I love. I enjoy playing it and I know that the ups and downs – they just come with it.”
Smith has been a full participant in practice since the beginning of training camp, and has looked fine physically.
“I’m in better shape. Having a knee injury, you don’t have a time to take a break. So, I’m in better shape, my body feels better,” Smith said. “My weight is up, but my body fat is down, so that’s something that’s a positive. And continuously working on my diet and all the little things that’ll help me stay healthy are things that I’m working on.”
Questions Smith has to answer: Is his knee really fine, and how will he react to taking a hit? Can he make better decisions, both on and off the field than he did at times with the Jets? We will get a glimpse of the on-field answer Friday, but only the Giants will know the answer to the latter question after seeing him day-in and day-out.
On his competition with Johnson: “I know that we’re competing. We’re all competing to get each other better and if it’s that one spot then obviously I’m going for it,” Smith said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Josh. I think he’s a tremendous player. He’s been in this league a long time, proven guy. And, I mean, if it is a competition for one spot, as a competitor, you want to win every single competition.”
Johnson, 31, has been through these situations better. A fifth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, he has started only five of the 29 games he has played in during his career. He is, incidentally, 0-5 in those starts.
What is Johnson aiming to accomplish Friday night?
“First and foremost, win the game. Score a lot of points, no turnovers. Have complete command of the offense, be a leader. And keep our defense off the field as much as possible because we’ve got the ball in our hands, we’re getting first downs, putting points up on the board and putting pressure on their offense,” he said.
“I’ve got to get us in the right situations. Make sure I’m executing the opportunities that I’m given to throw the ball, make sure our run plays are crisp and clean. Make sure that we’re going to the right looks. Not turning the ball over obviously keeps the ball in our hands and puts us in a position to put more pressure on their defense.”
Question Johnson has to answer: Can a guy who hasn’t thrown a regular-season pass since 2011 or even taken a snap since 2013 do the job if he is needed when it counts? When the question comes up, which it did during an interview in OTAs, Johnson answers it the best way he can:
“I hear it, but it’s weird to me because it’s like they don’t credit preseason; like it doesn’t happen. That’s football, and I play well in the preseason. That’s the opportunity that I was given and for the blessing of the other guys that I’ve been behind, they haven’t gotten hurt so I’ve got the opportunity to stay ready,” Johnson said. “I’ve always been prepared, since I was younger. I learned that from the guys I initially played with, to always be ready because as a back-up quarterback you never know when your opportunity is going to come. It is just something for people to talk about and it doesn’t bother me.
“My job is to go out when I go out, and play and perform, and if you check my tape recently I have done that.”
On his competition with Smith: “It’s the NFL, it’s a competition between everybody. You’ve got competition with the guys who want jobs on the street, you’ve got competition with the guys in the building,” Smith said. “It’s all about your performance. It’s a performance driven business, so you’ve got to get out there and perform with the opportunities that you’ve got.
“Obviously for me, I keep it simple. Then, the fact that there’s only one quarterback that goes out on the field at one time, that’s really all that matters, and make sure you’re on the same page with those 10 guys that you’re out there with. To me, that’s what’s more important.”