Geno Smith’s most valuable education as a rookie quarterback was learning to win in the National Football League, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
The Jets went 8-8 last season to miss the playoffs for the third straight year, yet won three of their final four games behind Smith. A second-round pick in the 2013 draft, Smith started all 16 games last season after replacing Mark Sanchez as the team’s quarterback.
“The big thing is what Geno started to do at the end of the year -- he figured how to win in this league,” Ryan said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the Jets’ training facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
Smith, 23, threw 18 interceptions and lost four fumbles in the Jets’ first 11 games last season. In the final five games, he had three interceptions and no fumbles.
“We obviously have to score points, but you have to protect that ball,” Ryan said. “He did a tremendous job of that. He was so efficient at the end of the season and that’s why I was so excited about how this team was finishing.”
Smith, who will have Mike Vick as his backup, said he’s confident entering the 2014 season and is anxious to build and improve on his performance as a starter.
“There is a big difference with just the way that we’ve gelled, having a second year in this offense and a better understanding of what’s required of us,” Smith told reporters.
The Jets added former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson to a rushing unit that ranked sixth in the NFL last season and signed free agent receiver Eric Decker, who had 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Denver Broncos in 2013. Jeremy Kerley was the only player to have more than 40 catches for the Jets last season.
Ryan, who in January signed a contract extension that runs through 2016, said he’s excited to build on the finish to last season, when the Jets had wins against the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins over a four-week span.
“As a team we kind of grew together and we started figuring this out a little bit,” Ryan said.
The Jets open the regular season on Sept. 7 against the Raiders, who had a 4-12 record last year. After that, only one of their next six opponents had a losing record last season.
“There will be teams with a better quarterback than us, better receivers, better defensive linemen, better coach than us, but collectively that’s the important thing,” Ryan said. “One thing I know for sure is we’re going to give everything we have, through preparation, work ethic, desire, passion. We’re going to give it all out there.”