By far the most interesting 2013 NFL draft prospect I spoke to at the NFL's Play 60 event in NYC on Wednesday was West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.
Yes, I know this is a Colts blog and that there's about as much chance of ME being drafted to the Colts this year as them taking Smith. However, if I were the G.M. of the Jaguars, Titans, or even the Texans, I'd give strong consideration to using my first round pick on this kid. The Colts facing Geno Smith twice a year scares me a helluva lot more than them facing Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, or Matt Schaub.
Smith and several other prospects – including West Virgina teammate Tavon Austin – were made available to the media at the Play 60 event, and no one player was dissected more than Smith. Inevitably, the questions began to focus on the harsh scouting report published by Nolan Nawrocki at Pro Football Weekly, calling Smith "a gimmick, overhyped product" who is "lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus" to succeed at the quarterback position. The report dubbed him a "top 50" talent, and, for all intent and purposes, stated he was lazy, unreliable, and just a hair’s breath away from being JaMarcus Russell 2.0.
To Smith’s credit, he did not shy away from the scouting report during Wednesday's media session. Typically, at events such as these, draft picks are coached to give "non-answers" to direct questions. They’re told to be boring. Non-confrontational. Safe.
Smith was anything but.
While answering some standard pre-draft questions, it was Smith himself who brought up how he is working to brush off "unjust criticisms." When asked by reporters to specify which criticisms he meant, Smith smiled sheepishly and answered, "You know what I mean."
Smith went on to articulate which part of the PFW critique was the most unfair:
I would say anything about my character. That’s something I take extremely personal. I’m high on character. I’m a high character guy, and I’m not just saying that. I believe that reflects on my mother, my grandmother, and all those who raised me. So, when people talk bad about my character, it means they didn’t do their job.
When I asked a follow-up on such criticisms being almost insulting to his family, Smith replied:
When you say I’m a bad character guy, I’m immature, I think that reflects on my mother and my father because they raised me. They raised me up to be a high character, humble guy. I was raised in the church and I’m high in my faith. So, when I hear that kind of stuff, I just brush it off because I know it’s not who I am. So, it’s obviously made up. I’ve had no altercations in college or high school. Never been arrested. Never had anything to warrant those types of criticisms.
Does all this criticism motivate him to play better?
No. I’m already motivated to play better. I’m going to go out there and win games.
Where the interview got a tad heated was when reporters started asking Geno Smith about what criticisms are fair, in his mind. Now, I'll quantify this by saying that when I mean "heated," I do not mean that Smith turned into a rampaging wild man, looking to land upper-cuts across the jaws of reporters. However, when asked about his on-field performance, which Smith said was fair to criticize, his answers and tone developed are harder edge.
One reporter asked questions about Smith's performance in West Virginia’s the bowl game at Yankee Stadium in late-December of 2012. The Mountaineers were routed 38-14 by Syracuse in a game in which Smith threw for 201 yards, two touchdowns, but was sacked in the endzone twice, resulting in two safeties. The reporter's question was about Smith playing poorly in the cold weather at Yankee Stadium. Smith interrupted the reporter in mid-sentence with:
Smith: How didn’t I play well?
Reporter: Critics have said you did not play well in that game and that they can extrapolate-
Smith [interrupting again]: That’s an opinionated thing. That’s what I always say. That’s opinionated. My coaches are the ones who critique that, not a fan or a reporter.
Well, OK then.
As I noted on Twitter immediately after the media session, the questions and critiques about his character and his play in the bowl game against Syracuse clearly began to annoy Smith. The interesting thing about this is that his annoyance with the questions after a certain point did indeed reveal something about his character.
At the end of the day, Smith is human, and one can relate to him being a bit sharp with people after being asked the same sorts of questions over and over since the February scouting combine.
Still, this is the NFL. The questions he got from reporters on Wednesday are nothing to what he’ll get if he ever becomes a starting QB in this league.
I’ll credit Smith for his willingness to address questions of interest and to not shy away or duck from critiques. Did he get defensive? Yes, but that shows something. Pride? Defiance? Passion? I guess we'll see.
Smith also addressed the perception that the character or work ethic of black quarterbacks are viewed with more scrutiny than white quarterbacks:
I think that’s a misconception. It’s a process. All quarterbacks get questioned. Whether or not you’re black or white, green, blue, whatever. The quarterback is the hardest position to play on the field. Everyone knows that. In the NFL, if you don’t have a good quarterback, the head coach is going to be looking for a job. That’s why there’s the scrutiny with quarterbacks. Whether or not it’s a racial thing, I don’t think so, but if it is it’s more of a personal thing.