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Can Devin Smith Become All-Important 3rd Wheel in Jets Passing Offense

Published by Bleacher Report on Wed, 02 Dec 2015

There's Eric Decker; there's Brandon Marshall; but for the New York Jets passing game this season, there hasn't been much else.On Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, Jets wide receiver Devin Smith took the first step toward giving the Jets something else.Smith caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second quarter of Sunday's 38-20 win over the Dolphins, marking his first trip to the end zone since entering the NFL as a second-round pick in April's draftand his first touchdown since January 1, 2015.It was the first high point of an otherwise disappointing rookie season for Smith. The 6'1", 199-pound receiver has not made a smooth transition to the NFL, a transition that was not made any easier by a rib injury he suffered in training camp. Without the practice reps to help him get comfortable with the offense, Smith has gotten off to a slow start.Before Sunday, he had caught just seven of the 22 passes thrown his way (31.8 percent) for 82 yards (11.7 yards per reception). Against Miami, Smith caught two of three passes thrown his way (66.6 percent) for 33 yards (16.5 YPR) and a touchdown.Smith could have had his first NFL touchdown sooner if he had hung onto two dropped passes against the Houston Texans in Week 11, one of which wasa would-be 46-yard touchdown bomb. Smith was able to put that drop behind him, though, and so was Fitzpatrick, as the quarterback showed continued faith in his receiver by giving him another chance to score this week."[Devin] had a tough week and rightfully so," Marshall said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. "He read some of that stuff [written about his struggles], heard some of that stuff but he responded amazingly. We need him because there are teams that double myself, double [Decker], if we can get [Devin] rolling like he did today, that will be really good for our offense and team. I am proud of him and he deserves it."The dropped passes weren't the only threat to Smith's confidence. He also had a fumble against the Buffalo Bills that was returned for a touchdown.Despite those miscues, Smith kept his confidence up and his head down, working hard to put it behind him."I knew my time was coming so I wasn't too worried about it," Smith said. "But those two drops that I did have, any football player would be upset about that. All the guys told me don't worry about it. Just keep moving forward."He really did know his time was coming, as evidenced by Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press.Fitzpatrick called it a "trust throw"; Smith said it was more of a "feel thing." Perhaps each man was just describing his role in the play: Smith had to feel the opening in the defense; Fitzpatrick had to see it and trust that his receiver would get there and make the catch.Regardless, everyone (except the Dolphins defense) walked away happy. And there's every reason to think that these results can continue going forward. Defenses are going to continue paying more mind to Marshall and Decker than to Smith, which means the rookie needs only to take advantage of the favorable looks he's sure to see.His first catch, a 17-yard gain, was an example of this. Decker (circled in black) ran a clearing from the slot down the seam, while Smith (circled in yellow) ran a comeback route on the outside.The safety on Smith's side of the field was cheating toward the middle of the field, and the cornerback was playing off coverage. So, when Smith stopped his pattern to come back to the ball, he had an easy time making the catch and turning upfield for extra yards.Yes, there's some risk involved in getting excited about two catches and one touchdown, particularly against a bad defense like the Dolphins. That being said, Smith can use this game as a springboard to launch his rookie season, and potentially his career, in that role as the third weapon in the Jets pass attack.
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