By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Marty Mornhinweg has quite a task on his hands.
As the New York Jets’ new offensive coordinator, he has to work his West Coast-style system around a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith and a group that’s hardly made up of flashy playmakers. How Mornhinweg gets the offense to mesh will likely go a long way in determining the Jets’ success — or failure — this season.
It all starts Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home in the regular-season opener.
“We’ve got a great opportunity and we’re excited about this opportunity,” Mornhinweg said Thursday. “It’s going to be a heck of a challenge as well.”
Tampa Bay knows it is facing an inexperienced rookie Sunday, a guy who took all of 69 snaps in preseason games. It won’t be a big surprise to anyone in the stadium if the Buccaneers do all they can to try to rattle Smith.
“Well, really with a rookie quarterback, I’ve seen in my experience two different philosophies,” Mornhinweg said. “One is, ‘Let’s go blitz him,’ and these types of things. I would expect that. The other philosophy is, ‘A rookie quarterback, he can’t beat us, so we’re going to play it soft and he’s not going to be able to move it down the field as consistently as a man with experience.’
“Two different philosophies, and I would expect a little bit from each of those philosophies, but certainly it’s in their system to blitz.”
Smith insisted Wednesday that he won’t be rattled, already oozing the confidence of a season veteran. But, the real games haven’t started and Mornhinweg knows what he must do to manage Smith’s emotions.
“Well, the other 10 players, as well as the special teams and defense, (need to) kick it up a notch,” he said. “Really, that’s important part of the thing for a young quarterback that’s inexperienced. It’s just that simple.”
Smith, a first-round talent who fell into the second round because of questions about his commitment and abilities, has impressed the Jets coaches. During training camp, Smith was off to a terrific start in the quarterback competition with Mark Sanchez before a sprained ankle derailed things a bit. But just when it appeared Sanchez had the job wrapped up, he suffered a shoulder injury that could sideline him for a few weeks.
So, now, it’s Smith’s job.
“This is his offense now,” coach Rex Ryan said.
And, Mornhinweg thinks he’s ready.
“Geno has done a heck of a job up to date with his preparation,” Mornhinweg said. “All of the quarterbacks have. Outstanding.”
Mornhinweg acknowledged that about two-thirds of the game plan was set by Thursday afternoon, but added that he might “cross out a whole host of things” as the Jets move closer to game day, depending on how the offense looks on film.
One thing that won’t be in the playbook will be testing Darrelle Revis, despite the former Jets cornerback coming off a serious knee injury.
“No,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “We know him well. That might be some team’s (philosophy). I don’t think that’s going to be our philosophy. I can’t even lie and say, ‘Oh yeah, no, absolutely, we’re attacking him, yeah.’ I don’t see that happening, but again, we’ll see.
“Obviously, we know the kind of talent he is. All Jets fans know the kind of talent that he has.”
Mornhinweg spent the last 10 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, most of them as coordinator. He helped develop one of the league’s most dangerous offenses during his time there, working with Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, among others.
The Jets lack established players of that caliber, other than wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who is coming off a major foot injury and still might not be 100 percent when the season begins. Wide receivers Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, running backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, and tight end Jeff Cumberland are all nice players. But none will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
Part of Mornhinweg’s mission is to change that. But first thing’s first: helping Smith prepare for his first NFL start. There could be adjustments such as playing to Smith’s strengths: allowing him to take more snaps out of the shotgun and running the read-option, things he was familiar with at West Virginia.
“He knows what the expectations are,” Mornhinweg said. “He expects himself to play well and certainly we do, too.”
Ryan knew all about Mornhinweg’s history of developing offenses. It’s another side of the coach that has surprised him.
“He’s a little tougher than maybe I thought going in,” Ryan said. “Just his mentality, he always attacked and stuff, but even his background, he came from a family of wrestlers from Perry, Okla. He has some toughness. I love the way he is. He’s a great teacher. I see him out there. He gets the most from his players. He cares for his players. He’s been there and done it.
“He’s really fun to watch.”
Mornhinweg is the Jets’ third offensive coordinator in as many years, replacing the fired Tony Sparano, who took over for the departed Brian Schottenheimer. He’s vocal on the field, and is much the same in the classroom while the offense studies film.
“Coach Mornhinweg is a firecracker,” wide receiver Stephen Hill said. “When you listen to his voice, it’s like, ‘It’s time to play!’ Any little thing like any route or block, he gets fired up about that. It’s just like, ‘It doesn’t matter what coverage it is, you should make that play, regardless.’”
Right tackle Austin Howard played under Mornhinweg with Philadelphia in 2010, getting an up-close look at his approach to the game.
“I realized how smart a coach he is and how methodical he is at running his offense,” Howard said. “Marty really understands the game, and not only that, he understands how to get in our heads as an offensive unit and allow us to better understand what a play is supposed to look like and what we’re trying to get out of the plays.
“It’s easy to follow a coach like him because he really works so hard.”