The New York Jets received a scare on Friday night when rookie quarterback Geno Smith left their preseason opener with an ankle sprain. The injury proved to not be serious at all, and it may actually turn out to be an important moment in Smith’s young career.
The NFL is a league filled with men who are willing to play through almost anything, and they expect their teammates to be willing to make the same sacrifices. Although this is a minor injury, it provides Smith with an opportunity to show team veterans what he is made of.
Smith’s maturity was questioned throughout the draft process, and his wish to skip the second day of the draft after not being selected in the first round only added fuel to the fire. Then he fired his agent immediately after the draft, and decided to sign with Jay-Z’s new agency as its first NFL client. These moves drew mocking responses from many fans and media members, and it is likely that some of his teammates felt the same way.
It seemed all of this had blown over until, when several current West Virginia players made comments to the media about the lack of leadership on last year’s team. Smith was not mentioned by name, but the discussion of selfish players who lacked leadership clearly included the quarterback, even if he wasn’t the only player who was being referred to.
An ankle sprain may not seem like the way to answer some of these questions, but it is actually a great chance for Smith to show his toughness. He has done that by not missing a minute of practice since the injury, and by playing well over the last two days. This may seem like a small thing, but young players must prove and earn everything in the eyes of veterans, and Smith is starting to do that.
A quarterback must be the leader of the team, and his teammates must believe in him. By showing that he won’t skip out on something as insignificant as a day of training camp, Smith is showing that he is going to be there for his teammates and that they can count on him.
Building this faith and trust with the veterans will be crucial because Smith will be the starting quarterback at some point this season, even if it’s not Week 1. When he does take over, the players around will be much more confident in their new quarterback, and that will make a big difference for locker room chemistry and the level of play on the field.
I’m not saying practicing with a sprained ankle is going to turn Smith in Peyton Manning, but it is a big step towards earning the respect and trust of the veterans in the locker room, which is an important part of his development into the Jets’ starting quarterback.