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Geno Smith towers above all as the NFL’s feel-good quarterback story

The Seahawks signal-caller has his team off to a 6-3 start, and his stock is rising on two continents.
Published Nov. 10|Updated Nov. 12

MUNICH — Geno Smith’s image is plastered across the Olympic Tower this week, making him the de facto face of the Seahawks heading into Sunday’s game against the Bucs.

Built in 1968 and stretching 955 feet in the air, the Olympiaturm, as it known in Germany, is a famous landmark of this beautiful city, one that now serves as the backdrop to the quarterback’s smiling face.

When Smith was shown the promotional image, he didn’t believe it was real.

“I thought it was photoshopped,” he said.

Indeed, who could have pictured Smith, a 32-year-old career backup who struggled as a second-round draft pick of the Jets in 2013, re-emerging nine years later as one of the NFL’s best starting quarterbacks?

Smith has the Seahawks off to a 6-3 start nine months after Seattle decided to trade franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Broncos for a pile of draft picks.

Even the Seahawks weren’t overly sold on Smith as a starter, waiting until a couple of weeks before the start of the season to name him the starter over Drew Lock.

Why now? The Seahawks have a nice mixture of an improved offensive line, two outstanding receivers in Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, and a rookie of the year candidate in running back Kenneth Walker to go along with an improving defense.

Meanwhile, for all his experience in the league, Smith is finally in the perfect head space to go with what has always been a great skill set to pull off one of the best performances in the league.

“I think it’s a mixture of talent and mental stability,” he said. “I think those things are coming into a good combination right now. I’ve always had those two things. It’s more so me being in the light versus doing it in the shadows.”

The spotlight once burned bright in Smith’s eyes after an impressive senior season in West Virginia’s “Air Raid” offense.

As a rookie with the Jets in 2013, Smith went 8-8 as a starter but threw twice as many interceptions (21) as touchdowns (12). While he was better the next year, the Jets weren’t good around him. He was rapped for immaturity issues, such as missing a team meeting on the West Coast due to his confusion over the time zone.

Bucs coach Todd Bowles was hired as the Jets’ coach in 2015 and was in support of starting Smith. The Jets had improved their talent, adding receiver Brandon Marshall.

Smith said Bowles was a big help to him heading into that season.

“I learned a lot from him about defenses,” Smith said. “He was always a guy I felt like was in my corner. We had many talks. That was obviously during a tough time in my NFL career and I was still young and up and coming, and coach Bowles helped me through a lot of those situations.”

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One of those situations knocked Smith out of action. Smith broke his jaw when he was punched by teammate IK Enemkpali in August 2015 over a reported $600 debt. He missed the first two months of the season, and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Jets to a 10-6 record but failed to reach the playoffs.

Smith returned in a backup role the next season and made one start before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. He bounced around as a backup with the Giants and the Chargers before arriving in Seattle three years ago as a backup to Wilson.

Smith’s success this season hasn’t gone to his head.

“You’ve seen how he’s handled it the only way he should handle it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s been chill and calm, poised, comfortable in the space, comfortable with the questions. Because the questions come at him kind of left-handed because of the expectations and all. He’s handled that so well.

“But most of all, he’s handled the practice and stayed with the preparation part of it really diligently so that he can take full advantage of the moment. He’s done everything exactly the way you would want to see it.”

The Seahawks practiced in Washington on Wednesday, then flew all night, arriving in Germany on Thursday morning. After a few hours at their hotel, they were bused to practice at the training facility of soccer team Bayern Munich. It was “Techno Thursday,” with loud techno music blaring during practice.

The Seahawks are a loose bunch and having fun winning. So is Smith.

“I would just say it’s part of the business,” he said of his journey to this point. “None of those decisions were my decisions. I’m here with the team and enjoying our time in Munich. We’re looking forward to going out there and being an advocate for our country and our team and trying to put on a great show and get a win.”

Smith’s passer rating, 107.2, was third best in the NFL entering Thursday, and his completion rate, 73.1%, ranked first among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts.

His stock has risen as high as the Olympic Tower. How long before his face adorns Seattle’s Space Needle?

“When I found out it was real, I thought it was pretty cool,” Smith said of the Olympic Tower image he had yet to see in person. “It’s definitely an honor for me and my family on behalf of the Seahawks. They could’ve picked a bunch of guys on this team that could’ve been that guy, but I’m honored. I’m extremely honored.”

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLSTROUD.

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