- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Geno Smith has been the New York Jets’ quarterback of the future, present and, in the eyes of some, the past all in the span of a couple of seasons.

With Ryan Fitzpatrick still unsigned and no sign of his contract stalemate ending any time soon, Smith is back under center as the team’s starter - at least for now - and his wide receivers have sensed a difference.

“It seems like the game has slowed down,” Brandon Marshall said, pointing out Smith’s smooth handling of the two-minute drills in practice.

“There’s a sense of poise, comfort and it was pretty good to watch him kind of manage the situation. That’s the process for all players: You’ve got to give guys time and every guy’s different, and he seems to be growing. And that’s a good thing for all of us.”

Especially since Smith could end up under center in Week 1 if the Fitzpatrick saga doesn’t end in the Jets’ favor.

The reality is that New York wants Fitzpatrick, a free agent, to re-sign. After all, the 33-year-old veteran led the Jets to a 10-6 mark and within a win of the playoffs while throwing a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes. Coach Todd Bowles has said Fitzpatrick would re-assume the starter role if he returns.

Marshall had a team-record 109 catches for 1,502 yards and 14 TDs, while Eric Decker caught 80 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 scores. Given all that, it’s no wonder both Marshall and Decker have publicly declared their support for Fitzpatrick.

Their absences last week at voluntary organized team activities fueled speculation that the wide receivers were trying to send a pro-Fitzpatrick message - and a perceived anti-Smith sentiment - to the Jets, although both said Wednesday that was not the case.

“I think Geno understands that’s what it wasn’t about,” Decker said. “I mean, he knows how I feel about him and the progress that he was making last year before the preseason games. I mean, the guy’s a player. He can play. That’s not something that I have to speak upon with him.”

Still, it all has left Smith in a possibly uncomfortable situation. At this time a year ago, he was the clear starter and relinquished that role only when Ikemefuna Enemkpali’s locker-room punch broke the quarterback’s jaw in training camp.

There were some questions from fans and media about Smith’s leadership qualities after the incident, and Fitzpatrick stepped in and provided a calming influence with which he quickly won over his teammates.

That left Smith on the sideline for almost the entire season, wondering about his future.

Smith, who was given the week off from speaking to the media, insisted last week that he has never lost confidence in his abilities. He was the starter for most of his first three years after being a second-round draft pick in 2013, showing some inconsistent flashes.

In Fitzpatrick’s absence, Smith has another chance to show if he has improved on the field and in the minds of the Jets’ decision makers.

“From a mental standpoint, he’s getting a lot of reps and he’s getting to see things a lot clearer,” Bowles said.

“Being in the system a year, I think it helps him from that standpoint. We’re not at the August standpoint, where we can say that that opportunity has taken place yet, so it’s still early in the stages. But he is getting major reps.”

Through the first two weeks of OTAs, Smith has been mostly solid, particularly during the two sessions open to the media. It’s just practice in shorts, as Bowles likes to say, but the perception of Smith has been positive.

“Going through two-minute (drills) before we even went out on the field, standing in front of the offense and going through the hand signals, it was like a sense of comfort and confidence,” Marshall said of Smith.

“That stood out to me. I was really excited, not only for us but also for him because he’s been through a lot. Some of it, he did it himself, but that’s part of the process. You just go through things and, whether good or bad, it’s all part of growth.”

While the Jets continue to monitor the situation with Fitzpatrick, they’re also moving forward with the idea that, for now, Smith will again be leading them. Marshall was roommates with Smith last offseason, building a bond on and off the field with the young quarterback.

“My relationship, just because he wasn’t the starter last year, hasn’t changed with Geno,” Marshall said. “It’s the same exact relationship, if not even better. We’re in a business. … Ryan came in and played well, but that doesn’t change my relationship with Geno.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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