|Duane Burleson / Associated Press|
|Jets coach Rex Ryan spent part of his Monday shielding QB Geno Smith from criticism.|
He might have ended up sticking his foot in his mouth again, though.
Mountaineers players and head coach Dana Holgorsen have lamented a lack of leadership on the team last season, which saw West Virginia spiral from a 5-0 start and No. 4 ranking in the USA Today Coaches poll to a 7-6 finish and Pinstripe Bowl loss, taking several not-so-veiled shots at Smith, who was drafted in the second round.
"Last year we didn't have, you know, a lot of leadership," junior running back Dustin Garrison told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
"There wasn't no team," junior offensive tackle Quinton Spain said. "I could say there was a team early, but once we started losing we saw the I's come up, so it just hurt the team worse."
So Ryan responded in kind, referencing his own son Seth, a walk-on freshman receiver/cornerback at Clemson.
"It tells me I'm glad my kid never went there," Ryan said, per reports. "I don't get that. Geno was a tremendous player for West Virginia."
The back and forth is only going to increase the pressure on Smith, whose attitude and demeanor were sharply critiqued by Nolan Nawrocki of the late, great Pro Football Weekly.
"Nonchalant field presence -- does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire," Nawrocki wrote in his assessment of Smith, and apparently West Virginia agreed.
West Virginia's performance in its first season without Smith and the Jets' showing with him will be viewed as a referendum on the signal-callers' play and leadership, reinforced by Ryan bringing added attention to the remarks. Then again, Ryan has enough problems than to pick fights with well-armed mountain men.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.