EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The last time the world saw Geno Smith on a football field he was the embattled, former starting quarterback of the Jets, briefly given his job back by default. Then, he was carted away with a torn ACL and his time with the Jets - and maybe as an NFL starter - were over.
But here he is again, getting ready for another game at a familiar stadium, this time in a battle for the job of backup quarterback with the Giants. He feels better, stronger, smarter and healthier, and he certainly seems a lot happier than he was.
Just don't try selling him on any storyline about the rebirth of his career or the debut of Geno 2.0. As far as he's concerned, this isn't a reset. It's still all part of the beginning of his NFL career.
"It's still Chapter 1," Smith said. "We're still working, still getting better. It's not that kind of thing for me. I'm always focused on football. I don't look at the outside storylines or any of that. This is a game that I love. I enjoy playing it. I know that the ups and downs, they just come with it."
Smith sure has been through plenty of ups and downs since the Jets drafted him in the second round back in 2013. He's still only 26 years old, yet he has 30 starts on his resume - albeit just one in the last two seasons.
Working behind the durable Eli Manning, he has no illusions of starting for the Giants. But what began as a longshot when he surprisingly signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Giants has turned into real battle for the No. 2 job. He and incumbent Josh Johnson have alternated with the second and third teams for most of the summer.
Giants coach Ben McAdoo wouldn't say which one would play with which team in the preseason opener on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it seems clear that as long as Smith is healthy, they both have an equal shot at the backup job. Johnson probably has the edge with a full year already in this offense. But Smith has more starting experience, is younger, and likely has a higher ceiling.
He also believes he's a better quarterback than he was before.
"I'm in better shape," Smith said. "Having a knee injury you don't have time to take a break, so I'm in better shape, my body feels better, my weight is up but my body fat is down, so that's something that's positive. … That's been the blessing, that I've had a tremendous amount of time to work on my game, to become a more refined quarterback and also to work on my body and all the small things that help you continuously play in this league."
It sounds like Smith might be a bit unrecognizable to Jets fans, who saw him struggle in two years as a starter when he threw 36 interceptions in 30 games. Smith disagreed with that, though.
"They'll recognize me," he said. "I think that's just a misconception. They've seen me play. They've seen me play well."
Now, he just expects to play better.
"When it comes to those interceptions, the majority of those happened as a rookie (when he threw 21)," Smith said. "I'm not making an excuse for it, but I learned from those mistakes. And this is what, four years later? So I should be better. I am better. I'm smarter. I understand it. I see it better. And that just comes with getting more reps and getting a better feel for the NFL game."
If he is better, this could be quite a showcase for Smith this summer whether he wins the backup job or not. There are many scouts around the NFL who love his ability and potential, but want to see if he's able to refine his game in a more stable environment. A good performance in the preseason could lead Smith to a shot at a starting job somewhere else down the road.
In the meantime, though, Smith is just thrilled to be getting ready for a game for the first time since he hurt his knee last October.
"It's going to be fun," he said. "I'm excited. Looking forward to it. I'm going to go out there and cut it lose, play like I know how and give it everything I got."