- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Geno Smith has noticed his teammates responding differently to him these days.

A year ago, he was merely a wide-eyed rookie trying to find his way in the NFL. Now, he’s the undisputed starting quarterback of the New York Jets.

Smith is brimming with confidence, and with that comes increased respect in the locker room. The bottom line, though, is the success - or failure - of Rex Ryan’s team could depend on Smith’s performance this season.

“You can only inspire the guys and you can only be that leader if you are on top of your game and you know what you’re doing,” Smith said. “I appreciate the fact that they have always stuck with me and they have always been confident in me because they’ve seen the way that I can bounce back from a tough game.”

He had plenty of those last season, when he threw 12 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions. But Smith also had some promising moments, particularly during a four-game stretch in which the Jets went 3-1 to end the season 8-8 and saved Ryan’s job.

The Jets went into the offseason determined to give Smith every opportunity to show he deserved to be the starter. They also brought in Michael Vick to push Smith, as well as to mentor him - and to be ready to step in if Smith struggled.

Well, Smith hasn’t flinched.

Even with a still-effective Vick eager to show he’s still one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. Smith got nearly 80 percent of the snaps with the first-team offense in training camp and played well enough to not force Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to stray from the plan.

“His composure under pressure is definitely showing up this year,” wide receiver Jeremy Kerley said. “He’s showing he won’t be rattled in pressure situations. Just his learning ability has taken over.”

Smith has also become more vocal on the field, and his understanding of the offense has improved. Vick has liked what he has seen from Smith, too, even if that means he’ll be kept on the sideline more than he’d like.

“Geno’s working extremely hard to be the best quarterback that he can be in this game,” Vick said. “You see guys around the league around his age going out having success and doing some good things for their ballclubs and I think he wants to fall right into that echelon.”

Here are a few other things to watch this season:

REX RELOADED: Ryan received a multiyear extension during the offseason that could keep him in New York through at least the 2016 season. The heat’s still on, though.

If the Jets miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season - the longest drought in owner Woody Johnson’s tenure since taking over in 2000 - Ryan could be the scapegoat. If Smith doesn’t progress, the Jets could be in the market for a new coach, a new quarterback and starting from scratch. Again.

CORNERING THE MARKET: After Smith, the most important players are in Ryan’s secondary. Or, maybe more accurately, those who aren’t there.

Story Continues →