CORTLAND, N.Y. -- After seven practices and one controlled scrimmage, the New York Jets' quarterback competition is too close to call.
Rookie Geno Smith continued his steady play Saturday night in the annual Green & White scrimmage, and Mark Sanchez salvaged an otherwise forgettable night with a brilliant, 57-yard touchdown strike to Stephen Hill. Sanchez has nine lives. Just when you're ready to write him off, he gives you a moment that makes you believe it can be 2010 all over again.
So what now? The next move for Rex Ryan is to let Smith start the preseason opener against the Lions in Detroit. Why not? Let the kid face a tough defensive front, on the road, with all the pressure of competing for the starting job. The Jets will learn a lot about Smith's makeup in that kind of environment. There's no point in starting Sanchez in the opener; the Jets know what he can do. And what he can't do. They have to find out about Smith because, based on what I'm hearing, the organization would be pleased if he grabbed the job by the throat.
"Guys are responding to me," Smith said after the scrimmage. "I think that's a part of them just realizing that I'm a hard worker."
Smith looked terrific on the opening drive. He hit Hill for nine yards on a slant, found Clyde Gates for 10 on another slant and, on his best throw of the night, rifled a 15-yard strike to Gates on a sideline route.
"I think Geno completed some passes that you don't see rookies make," Antonio Cromartie said.
Smith's opening drive stalled with a couple of penalties in the red zone and a couple of incomplete passes. Until the fizzle, he was "absolutely tremendous," according to Ryan. Smith had a couple of hiccups, missing badly on a fairly deep throw to Jeff Cumberland, but he didn't record any turnovers and didn't take any sacks. He was 9-for-16, for 77 yards. He has yet to throw an interception since arriving in Cortland. It's a lot easier when you're wearing a red jersey, knowing you're not going to get hit, but no interceptions is impressive.
As for Sanchez (6-for-11, 93 yards), he was utterly mediocre until the Hill touchdown. He missed a wide-open Gates in the end zone for what should've been a 21-yard touchdown. That was his worst throw of the night, even worse than his interception, an overthrown long ball that was picked off by Cromartie -- resulting in boos from the crowd of 6,000.
"Cro made a hell of a play," said Sanchez, who gave the crowd a chuckle when he fell on his rear end while dropping back to pass -- a sack.
It wasn't all bad for Sanchez. He executed a fairly effective no-huddle in one series, something Smith didn't get a chance to do. When it comes to that stuff, Sanchez gets the edge because of his experience. Also remember, he played mostly with backups -- only one series with the first-team offense. He was victimized by one drop, maybe two. He didn't get much help from Jeremy Kerley on an open seam route. Kerley got his hands on the ball, but he turned late on the throw, which was slightly behind him -- a sequence straight out of 2012.
"It was a great read and a great throw," Ryan said. "[Kerley] has to get his head around quicker."
Sanchez changed the narrative with a lightning-bolt of a throw to Hill, who burned Ellis Lankster. The play symbolized hope (Hill finally living up to expectations as a vertical threat) and reflected some of the Marty Mornhinweg philosophy. He runs a West Coast offense, but he likes to take more deep shots than your average West Coast playcaller.
"Marty is really stressing that," Sanchez said.
In one sense, Sanchez's performance was irrelevant. He has a track record; the coaches know his strengths and weaknesses. The next two weeks should be dedicated to finding out about Smith.