New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith is coming off a rookie season where he threw 21 interceptions to just 12 touchdowns. In the offseason, the Jets signed Michael Vick to compete with Smith, although the veteran signal-caller appears to have already surrendered the starting job.
"I think everybody wants to start, but right now that's not my position," Vick told ESPN on Tuesday. "Geno was drafted in the second round and this is his second year and I think he deserves an opportunity to go out and play and show why he's been a high draft pick. It would be unfortunate for him to not get that opportunity."
Head coach Rex Ryan reiterated on Tuesday that Vick's role is to push Smith for starting snaps, but admitted his role goes further than just holding the clipboard behind the West Virginia product.
"Mike's role is to come in here and compete and be the best that he can possibly be and I think he's doing that," Ryan told TSN. "Also, it is to be a mentor to a young player like Geno Smith. We try to pride ourselves on creating a culture of competition and to make yourself the best you can be but also push the guy in front of you, behind you and across from you. I think when you do that, that's the best thing for this team and it develops the chemistry and that's what Mike's doing."
Whether Vick is his backup or not, Smith is looking to take as much advice and experience from the former Philadelphia Eagle as possible as he attempts to improve on his disastrous 2013 stat line.
"I look at him as a big brother" Smith said to TSN. "I look at him as the veteran that he is, a guy that can definitely lend a helping hand to us all, all of us younger guys in this locker room. Especially myself, you know, being that he's played in this system and been a quarterback in the NFL for 11 years now. Just learning from him as well as competing with him and us helping one another get better is definitely something that's helping me out."
Ryan has yet to name the starter for the Jets, but he has hinted - albeit less strongly than Vick has - the nod will go to Smith. On Tuesday, the sixth-year coach praised Smith's improvement from the end of his 2013 season to his sophomore camp.
"You have to start with how he finished last season," Ryan stated. "The first 12 weeks, I think he had a 28 quarterback rating and the last month he had the second highest rating in the NFL. It started with how he took care of the football and obviously became more accurate as he got used to seeing NFL coverages.
"In the offseason, he prided himself on not just learning the offence but he wanted to build his body up, understanding the grind it takes in the NFL. He's put on weight, he's put on muscle so he's improved physically, and mentally, he's really been in the playbook. The way he carries himself now on the practice field, it's like he's been in the system for five years."
Smith's offseason preparations ahead of 2014 had a one main focus; lowering his interception count from 21 - the fourth-most in the NFL last season.
"The number one thing we studied is turnovers," said Smith, who also lost four of his eight fumbles in 2013. "Obviously we had a few too many turnovers last year and we feel that if we cut those down, we'd have a pretty good year. The main thing was being able to improve on everything. My footwork, my reads and cutting down on my turnovers, taking less chances and being very careful with the ball."
Smith also projects to improve in 2014 from the play of free-agent signees Eric Decker and Chris Johnson. Decker posted a career-high 1,288 receiving yards last season as he finished as the Denver Broncos' second leading receiver. He has also posted back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. Johnson was released by the Tennessee Titans after posting a career-worst 3.9 yards per carry average in 2013. However, Johnson has never rushed for less than 1,000 yards in a season. Now five years removed from his 2,000 yard season, Johnson scored 10 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns last year. Smith should also benefit from the additions the Jets made through the NFL Draft in May. The Jets selected tight end Jace Amaro in the second round and later selected receivers Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans in the fourth round.
"Having those guys in addition to the guys we got coming back is definitely going to help us out," Smith said. "We all collectively have to come together and just keep getting better and keep pushing one another."
As for Vick, he's learning to accept the change from being the star starter to the veteran backup.
"It's a different transition," the veteran said. "You go from taking all the snaps with (the first-string offence) and the feeling of being in control and knowing that everything falls on you as far as responsibilities to the quarterback position. It's different, I'm used to that. Not having to be in that situation right now, I won't say it's a breath of fresh air. But, as of right now, I get to tighten my game up, catch my breath for a second and watch Geno grow as a quarterback."
When the Jets will officially announce their starting quarterback remains a mystery, though the decision may remain simply a formality.
"We'll do it when we think it's right," Ryan said. "You have to be true to your team values in creating competition. We haven't named (defensive lineman) Muhammad Wilkerson a starter even though he should be a starter in the Pro Bowl but we still haven't named him yet. Everything will play out the way it's going to play out and give people opportunities."
The Jets open their preseason against Indianapolis Colts on August 7, when both Smith and Vick are expected to take snaps at quarterback.