MSN radio sideline reporter Jed Drenning will be providing periodic commentary on the Mountaineer football program for MSNsportsNET.com. You can also read more about Mountaineer football at Jed’s new web site http://thesignalcaller.com.
It’s never easy to make up for lost time.
That’s true in life, and in football. It’s especially true for a young quarterback about to be ushered onto center stage of one of the premier programs in the Big East Conference.
Such is the case with West Virginia University sophomore-to-be Geno Smith.
This is a kid who 30 weeks to the day after attending his graduation from Mirimar (Fla.) High found himself thrust into the eye of the media storm otherwise known as the 2010 Gator Bowl, the final game of Bobby Bowden’s coaching career. A kid who won’t turn 20 years old until Oct. 10, one day after West Virginia plays host to UNLV and five days before the Mountaineers square off against South Florida in a nationally televised Thursday night tilt on ESPN.
That’s not exactly the way a typical college sophomore spends the week of their birthday, but the good news is Geno Smith is hardly typical. The bad news is he has already in his young career lost an atypical amount of practice time and reps because of a pair of injuries.
It’s been well documented that shortly after becoming one of the more heralded signees in West Virginia history Smith summarily broke his foot riding an ATV. The injury resulted in Smith being put on the shelf for the better part of the 2009 summer and missing significant action during his first fall camp in Morgantown last August.
Fast forward to the spring of 2010 and again we find Smith hobbling his way through practice as he mends from another foot injury. The injury limited the young quarterback’s participation to little more than pass skeleton and a few individual drills - certainly not the live bullets that help mold an up-and-coming signal caller into a battle-tested leader.
When you step back and look at the big picture of Geno’s first 12 months as a Mountaineer the one thing that most readily jumps off the page at you can be summed up in two words: lost reps. As we all know, time is a non-renewable resource. Every single practice snap those two injuries cost Smith are snaps he will never get back, and that means all the world to a young quarterback trying to find his stride in a setting and a system that he’s only been immersed in for a year.
If you’re looking for a silver lining around the gray cloud of lost snaps shaped by Geno’s injury-ridden timeline at WVU, consider this: the lion’s share of reps Smith did get while playing behind Jarrett Brown last year were almost all meaningful ones. That does make a significant difference. All the blow-out, mop-up duty in the free world can’t test a young quarterback’s mettle as much as one snap taken with the outcome of a game resting in the balance. That was the case with most of Smith’s reps last year - they mattered.
The 47 snaps Smith took against Marshall after Brown exited with a concussion following the fourth play of the game were invaluable. From a situational standpoint, Smith confronted many of the same hardships he’ll see regularly as a starting quarterback at the major college level. Adversity is often exactly the tonic a developing young QB needs to grow, and in last year's Friends of Coal Bowl Geno got more than a dose of it. He was forced to play from behind (WVU trailed for more than 24 minutes during the contest); he was called on to deliver in the clutch (Smith’s 13-yard strike to Jock Sanders on fourth and 10 early in the second half was as savvy a play as you will see and it served as the turning point of the game); and he was forced to make big league throws to ignite his team (Smith’s perfectly delivered 33-yard TD strike to Alric Arnett came with less than thirteen minutes remaining and with the Mountaineers clinging to a narrow 10-7 lead).
In all three scenarios Smith responded with a poise and level of field smarts beyond his years, and that’s a very positive sign for the Mountaineers moving forward.
I was in the West Virginia locker room at halftime of the Gator Bowl when the determination was made to keep Jarrett Brown out of action because of his ankle injury. I watched Mountaineer offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen approach Geno near his locker and tell him it was now his show to run the rest of the way. Many true freshman hurled into this situation might lapse into a panic attack replete with Orphan Annie sized eyes, particularly following the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the first half and all of the Bowden‘s-final-game hoopla. But Smith was unflappable. He simply offered a confident nod that might have left you thinking Mullen had merely told him to smile at the cameras on his way back out.
The long and short of it is this: there are no mulligans in the world of injuries. Unable to go back and change things and make up for lost time, we are left to look forward. Every rep matters and in his ongoing effort to make the absolute most of the snaps that lay ahead, Geno Smith will be far too busy to count every hour of the day.
Instead, he’ll simply make every hour of the day count.