Last Thursday, I was privileged enough to attend the St. Louis Rams game against the Cleveland Browns, sitting nearly front row in the lower bowl as a result of extraordinarily cheap, preseason ticket prices. I found myself among a fair mix of four “types” of fans: your “typical” Browns’ fans, a decent number of mild-tempered Rams’ fans, a handful of completely intoxicated Clevelanders who had migrated over from the Indians’ beatdown just up the road, and… West Virginia fans.
As the first preseason bout wound to a close, the WVU base only got larger, seeming to clot together towards the “visitors” entrance at Cleveland Browns Stadium. In fact, it appeared, about every-other fan left in the stadium was sporting some sort of West Virginia apparel and a thick, Appalachian accent.
The stereotypical concept of “speaking your mind” is not confined to the greater New York-New Jersey area. Anyone raised in any moderately Southern-traditional family can attest to the notion that, if asked, you will certainly hear the “honest truth,” though the opinion may be sugarcoated with a sweet tone.
Thus, remarks from West Virginia University, in regards to former-quarterback, Geno Smith, are not surprising. In fact, brutal honesty about an alumni is relatively atypical in the modern sports world, at least from college coaches, with most willing to place their guy on a golden pedestal if given the opportunity. Regardless of your feelings on the newest New York Jet quarterback, the comments given by his former teammates and coaches do appear to be a bit “damning,” to say the least:
"“What’s different this year is we’re more a team. There ain’t no I’s; we don’t depend on nobody. We just depend on all of us at once as a team. So I think this year will be better than last year. There wasn’t no team. I could say there was a team early, but once we started losing we saw the I’s come up, so it just hurt the team worse” – Junior Offensive Lineman, Quinton Spain"
While the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review piece does not explicitly mention players by name, there certainly seems to be an indication that, at least some, of the comments are being directed towards Smith, especially when the term “lack of leadership” is being involved.
In response to the criticism, Rex Ryan dropped a media gem, responding to the comments by saying, “It tells me I’m glad my kid never went there. I don’t get that. Geno was a tremendous player for West Virginia.”
In truth, Geno Smith was “tremendous” last season, at least statistically speaking, even starting the season as a legitimate Heisman-candidate before falling apart halfway through the season. However, it is also true that Smith was throwing to, what would eventually be, three NFL-caliber receivers: Tavon Austin (1st-round, St. Louis), Stedman Bailey (3rd-round, St. Louis), and J.D. Woods (Undrafted, Pittsburgh). The top-end of that trio combined for 228 catches, 2,911 yards, and 37 touchdowns.
At first blush, it would appear to be a classic “Chicken or the Egg” situation. However, even the untrained “scouting” eye could glance over a touchdown compilation from WVU and reasonably conclude that Geno Smith might have been a name built on the shoulders of his playmaking, yards-after-the-catch receivers; not visa versa. Regardless of your personal stance in the argument, the results of the NFL draft seem to suggest the GMs and head coaches agree with our sediments, with Geno Smith plummeting out of the first round.
In juxtapose, Tavon Austin, who “projected” as a mid- to late-1st round selection, skyrocketed up the board, with the St. Louis Rams paying a King’s ransom to the Buffalo Bills to take the explosive receiver with the eighth overall pick. Fast forward to this second week of the preseason, both Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin appear primed for significant rotational roles in an NFL offense; with Austin figuring to be the leading “touch” player on the St. Louis Rams’ roster, and Bailey fighting for a potential “starting” spot on the outside, opposite Chris Givens. Even J.D. Woods is working his way up the Pittsburgh Steelers’ depth chart, making two excellent catches in his rookie debut. Meanwhile, Smith is struggling to beat out Mark Sanchez, who is arguably among the Bottom 5 “starting quarterbacks” on an NFL team this season.
So, at this point we have:
1) the Mountaineer’s coaching staff and several of Smith’s former-teammates’ comments
2) plummeting draft stock, seemingly as a result of either “character issues” or evaluator’s perception that the talent around him in college may have inflated his “individual” statistics
3) his two leading receiver in position to “start” in the NFL, while he, himself, struggles to surplant Mark Sanchez in the Jets’ lineup
Maybe, Rex Ryan should go back to not talking…