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While it remains questionable whether he has received enough attention for his efforts outside of the Pacific Northwest, few players have made a better story over the past two seasons since he replaced Russell Wilson as the Seattle Seahawks’ starting quarterback than Geno Smith.

Since beating out then-backup Drew Lock prior to the 2022 season, Smith has performed well statistically against his peers, ranking sixth in passing yards, fourth in completion rate, sixth in touchdown passes and first in game-winning drives. Not only was he named the Comeback Player of the Year for Seattle in 2022, but he has also been selected to the Pro Bowl team each of the past two years and even received an MVP vote, starting a turnaround rarely seen by quarterbacks in the NFL.

Several factors played a role in Smith’s career renaissance when he took Wilson’s former spot with the Seahawks, including a talented receiver staff led by DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett at his disposal. But while his on-field accomplishments deserve much of the credit, his ascension to a top-10 level quarterback likely wouldn’t have been possible without the presence of former assistant coach and current Panthers head coach Dave Canales.

Speaking to host Peter Schrager on the podcast “The Season with Peter Schrager,” Canales discussed his rapid rise from quarterbacks coach to head coach, including his final season in Seattle when he helped Smith make his historic breakthrough. Two years later, when most didn’t foresee the veteran’s unexpected rebirth, he saw enough of working with him as Wilson’s replacement that Smith’s immense success didn’t surprise him.

“There were a few little things he improved from a technical standpoint, but I mean, the guy had a 78 percent pass rate in his first training camp with the Seahawks,” Canales told Schrager. “So he was clearly a veteran, he knew where to throw the ball. Nobody throws a nicer ball than Geno Smith. He spins tight, he’s accurate. He’s got the right amount of swing, but he’s got the right feel. All of those things were there, but we had Russ, so you don’t think about it right away.”

Smith waited behind Wilson for two seasons, completing just five passes behind the durable superstar in 2019 and 2020. But then Wilson’s hand hit the helmet of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald during a game on Thursday night and he left the game with a broken finger that required surgery, forcing his backup to step in.

Despite coming up short, Smith impressed by nearly leading a comeback against the Rams, throwing a touchdown pass to DK Metcalf and leading a second field goal drive. He threw four touchdowns and just one interception over the next three games, earning the trust of former coach Pete Carroll and his team.

The following March, Seattle sent a disgruntled Wilson to Denver in exchange for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick and three veteran players. Under Canales’ tutelage, Smith seized his opportunity and easily beat Lock to the starting lineup in Week 1 for the first time since his second season with the Jets. And he didn’t let up, throwing 30 touchdown passes and leading the Seahawks to a wild-card spot.

“Just the celebration of a couple years of work, conversations, of Geno saying, ‘I know I can still do it. If I get the chance, I’m going to do it that way,'” Canales said of Smith’s improbable journey. “He was prescient with his words, he believed strongly in his own ability and talent. When I came in, I was really there through the whole process and when I got Geno, I was just there to keep him up and strengthen him.”

Canales was rewarded for his fantastic work with Smith and became a sought-after candidate for the offensive coordinator position, eventually taking the job with the Buccaneers. The quarterback whisperer, who worked similar magic with Baker Mayfield in Tampa Bay, lasted just one season before being named Carolina’s new head coach in January, beginning his own meteoric rise.

As for Smith, while he couldn’t quite replicate his 2022 numbers after Greg Olson took over as quarterbacks coach last year, he still threw 20 touchdowns and led the league with five game-winning drives, showing an elite clutch gene in close games for the Seahawks. He also led Seattle to another nine-win season despite an offensive line plagued by injuries and a lack of a consistent running game to complement him and his receivers.

Smith is playing with more confidence than ever as the Seahawks’ unquestioned starter and appears poised for another strong season working with new offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who has built Washington into one of the most potent offenses in college football over the past two years. Canales will be watching the team closely from afar and expects nothing less than for the veteran to continue his resurgence, given his dynamic roster with talented players like Metcalf, Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.