By Dennis Waszak Jr.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. —
It’s Geno Smith’s turn to try to prove he should be the New York Jets’ quarterback this season.
In a move that was expected for several days, Rex Ryan announced Thursday that the second-round draft pick will start over Mark Sanchez in the Jets’ preseason game against the Giants on Saturday night.
“We’ll see how far we take him into this game this week,” Ryan said. “Mark will play also. I think (Smith) has looked good and seems like the ankle is obviously a lot better than it was this past week.
“I’m excited to see him play.”
The rookie has worked with the first-team offense all week during practice. Smith, in a tightly contested competition with Sanchez, did not play in the Jets’ last preseason game last Saturday night against Jacksonville because of a sprained ankle.
Most NFL teams normally play their starters into the third quarter of the third preseason game, but the Jets wanted to see how Smith’s ankle responded this week before deciding on a starter against the Giants. Because Sanchez played three quarters against the Jaguars, the Jets want a better look at Smith in game action.
“We want to see him play,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “Hopefully, he’ll get the chance to turn it loose and let his natural abilities show up, and his natural style. I think, and I almost know, that he’s worked so hard that he’s there mentally.”
Smith has played just two quarters in the preseason after getting hurt while rolling out on a play in the third quarter at Detroit nearly two weeks ago. He was cleared for practice early last week, but struggled on the sore ankle — capped by what Ryan called a “brutal” performance last Wednesday in which Smith was intercepted four times.
He bounced back this week with an outstanding week of practice as his ankle also healed.
“I’m proud of Geno last week pushing through it,” Mornhinweg said. “This week, it was still biting him just a little bit, but he was significantly better.”
Quarterbacks coach David Lee has seen vast improvement in Smith’s footwork along with his command in the huddle since training camp began.
“His leadership is starting to show,” Lee said. “It’s hard when a guy doesn’t know everything to be a great leader. But once he knows it, we should see more and more leadership from him.”
Ryan said the team is still not prepared to select a starter for the regular-season opener against Tampa Bay. While Jacksonville and Philadelphia made decisions on their starting quarterbacks earlier this week, Ryan refuses to put a deadline on the Jets selecting one.
“We did say all along that it was going to be an equal competition,” Ryan said. “And, I think, obviously, the fact that Geno wasn’t able to play last week, you never really saw him when there were ‘live bullets,’ so to speak. So, it wouldn’t be an equal competition had we not played it out this way.”
Lee added that a strong performance by Smith perhaps still might not be enough for the Jets to select a starter for the season. That means the quarterback competition could potentially go into the final preseason game against Philadelphia next Thursday.
“It’s been too close to call,” Lee said. “I want it clear. I want it cleaner before we make that decision.”
Lee also acknowledged that he has often gone back and forth on who he thinks the starter should ultimately be.
“They come off the field and you’re frowning at one and (saying), ‘Atta boy’ to the other,” Lee said. “I’m being honest, it’s kind of been an emotional up-and-down deal: ‘Who’s the best one today? Maybe that’s our guy. We can do this with him and the other one, we can do this with him. We can do more with this guy in the passing game.’
“So that’s an honest answer.”
Mornhinweg insisted he hadn’t put as much thought into the daily fluctuations of the quarterbacks, preferring to let everything play out.
“Mark has had a terrific camp,” Mornhinweg said. “He’s had a bunch of ups, and he’s had some dips there. Geno’s had an outstanding camp for a rookie and he’s just had a little bit more than a couple of plays in a preseason game. So, we’ll see what happens in this next ballgame. We’ll see what the outcome is.”
Ryan also refused to put any parameters on what Smith might need to show against the Giants to be convinced that he’s the guy who should start the season under center.
“I think obviously it’s an evaluation process still that we’re going through,” he said. “I don’t want to say, ‘Look, he’s got to look like Phil Simms in the Super Bowl.”’
That performance by Simms, of course, was one for the record books when he completed 22 of 25 passes to help the Giants beat the Denver Broncos in 1987.
Mornhinweg said the decision will be made when one of the quarterbacks elevates himself above the other, and if that doesn’t happen, the team would then go on instincts.
“I think I know exactly where Mark’s at,” Mornhinweg said. “There’s no question that I think we can do some very good things with Mark. I don’t quite know where Geno’s at yet, even though we might think we know. But those preseason games are such a good evaluation period for a young man.”