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The quarterback competition that wasn’t really ever a competition

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Seattle Seahawks v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

As August enters its final week, final roster cuts for NFL teams are due in a matter of days, while the regular season sits right around the corner. For the Seattle Seahawks and their fans, it’s a time when many expected to be celebrating the Revenge Bowl, with Russell Wilson and Drew Lock facing off against their old teams on Monday Night Football following one of the biggest trades in the history of either franchise.

Except, it doesn’t appear that that is what is going to happen. With the team set to take on the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason finale on Friday and Geno Smith set to start, though head coach Pete Carroll assures fans that Lock will, “play a lot”. That has left a lot of fans fuming and scratching their head, as many had spent the offseason entertaining hopes of the Hawks having landed their quarterback of the future in Lock as part of the haul received from the Denver Broncos in the Wilson trade.

Thus, the question becomes, what has happened since the trade that the Seahawks appear to be handing the starting job to the guy who has been a backup for the past seven seasons? Why wouldn’t the Hawks give the starting nod to the former second round pick whose career was derailed by poor coaching while playing for a defensive minded head coach and having to learn two different offensive systems in his first three years in the league because of coaching instability?

Well, the simple fact of the matter is that that is exactly who the Seahawks appear to be giving the starting nod to as the 2022 season gets set to kick off, because that is a description of not only Lock, but also Geno Smith.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Drafted by the New York Jets in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Smith wasn’t supposed to be the starter that season. He was supposed to be afforded the luxury of sitting and holding a clipboard while learning the NFL game after having spent his college years playing in Dana Holgorsen’s version of the Air Raid. But, Rex Ryan’s coaching decisions put a stop to that when the Jets starter, Mark Sanchez, injured a shoulder playing in the second half of a preseason game and was lost for the year when surgery later proved necessary.

Smith, who had spent the offseason and most of training camp to that point with the second team was then forced to step up and start after getting barely two weeks worth of training camp reps with the first team. It certainly wasn’t always pretty, but Geno started every game and helped the Jets finish 8-8 that season, in small part by leading the NFL in game winning drives. However, there would be no continued improvement into 2014, as Ryan was fired after leading the Jets to a 4-12 finish. And with the team moving on from Ryan, fans and media echoed many of the same sentiments tossed out about Lock’s time in Denver with the Donkeys.

It has become clear that Rex Ryan is not a good head coach. It’s also clear that he probably ruined what could have been a good career.

Ryan didn’t put Smith in a good position to succeed. His offensive staff didn’t either.

During his first two seasons as head coach , Ryan led the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship games, but he has since proven that to be a fluke. The fact that he is ruining another team shows that he’s not a good head coach.

Or as Mike Freeman put it,

But what’s happening to the rookie second-rounder has a lot to do with Ryan, who, as he demonstrated with Sanchez, has no clue how to handle an offense. Or a quarterback.

That remains the biggest problem and why Ryan is one of the least well-rounded coaches in football. Brilliant defensive mind, but you couldn’t fill a paper cup with Ryan’s offensive knowledge. He knows to how stop one but can’t run one.

Ryan treats quarterbacks like they’re an inconvenience. Like something stuck on the bottom of his shoe.

Regardless of what one decides led to the end of the Rex Ryan era with the Jets, all it did was usher in a new era under yet another defensive coach in Todd Bowles, and a change in offensive systems. It also brought about the unforgettable incident in which Smith had his jaw broken by a teammate in a locker room altercation, which ended up costing Geno the starting role in 2015 before a torn ACL ended his 2016 season prematurely.

So, what is a highly athletic 26 year old quarterback to do while rehabbing a serious knee injury? Take his work ethic and passion for the game and apply it to studying and learning. As Jake Spavital, Smith’s quarterback coach at West Virginia put it,

“I’ve been around Geno for two years. I thought he was one of the hardest-working quarterbacks I’ve ever been around. You have people who are about ‘What can football do for me?’ Geno is about ‘What I can do for football?’ If you take the game away from him, I think he dies,’’ Spavital added. “He is a dream come true for a coach.’’

Smith didn’t just look to learn anywhere and for any team, though. He took that work ethic and passion for the game and applied it while sitting and learning without the pressure of starting behind three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson.

That afforded him the opportunity to spend the past five seasons patiently learning the intricacies of playing quarterback in the NFL while also studying reading defenses and gaining familiarity with the ins and outs of a variety of offensive schemes. That included time studying under Frank Cignetti Jr, Shane Steichen, Brian Schottenheimer and now Shane Waldron.

Bringing things back to the 2022 quarterback competition for the Seahawks, if Lock’s biggest downfall in Denver was poor coaching, five or six months of working was never going to be enough to move ahead in the competition. A matter of months is not enough to overtake a player who has spent the past five years studying behind Hall of Famers and preparing for the opportunity currently in front of him.

That’s why the “competition” with Lock was never really a competition, and it’s why Lock never really had a chance in terms of besting Smith out of the gate. When it comes to knowledge of not just the offensive system, but reading, recognizing and understanding defenses, Smith has been preparing for this competition since before Lock’s senior season at Mizzou.

Now comes the big ask of Smith, who no longer enjoys the luxury of no pressure to start because there’s a future Hall of Famer ahead of him on the depth chart. Now he’s been handed the reins and asked to lead a roster that is without the future Hall of Famer who had been the unquestioned starter for the past decade.

The time has come for Smith to take everything he’s learned as a student the past five seasons and apply it on the field as a leader. Whether he’s able to do so or not is a completely different beast unto itself, but there’s only one way to find out. And when the Seahawks take the field against the Broncos for Week 1 is when fans will get their first real chance to see whether Geno is the same quarterback he was for the Jets in the early years of his career or if sitting, learning and developing over the past five seasons made a difference. If it did, Smith will have have turned around a career that appeared to be dead on the side of the road several years ago, while if he doesn’t he’ll be looking for someplace else to ply his trade in 2023.