- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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Geno Smith's teammates saw him play only 69 snaps in the preseason, but he's got their support heading into Sunday's debut against the Buccaneers.
"Once he steps on the field, we don't see him as a rookie. We see him as our teammate, our brother," said Jets linebacker Antwan Barnes. "Somebody that we have to support and we have to be behind 100 percent of the way."
For the first time since 2008, the Jets will start the season without Mark Sanchez under center as the veteran will miss this week with a right shoulder injury he suffered against the Giants on Aug. 24. That gave the starting job to Smith, the team's second-round pick in this year's draft.
Smith and Sanchez had been locked into a competition for the starting job, but Sanchez's injury opened the door for Smith, who also dealt with an ankle issue during the preseason. Smith didn't play particularly well during the preseason, but his teammates have been impressed thus far.
Receiver Jeremy Kerley likes what Smith can do in and out of the pocket, as Smith is a mobile quarterback who can easily run for a first down, and he said Smith has shown great potential. Kerley also has been pleased with what he's seen from Smith as a leader.
"With him being a rookie, he's stepping up, being more vocal with the offense, he takes time grabbing guys aside for extra film work and stuff like that," Kerley said. "He's stepping up as a rookie."
Smith also earned praise from his teammates for having a strong arm, which could be utilized to stretch the field more than the Jets have in the past.
"He can make every single throw. The way he learned this offense, he learned it very well," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. " I think Marty [Mornhinweg] will do a great job of making sure the game plan is built around him to do what he needs to do."
Tight end Kellen Winslow said the team needs to do what it can to make sure Smith feels comfortable during his first career start.
"Nothing really matters until Sunday, until the ball's snapped. All the hoopla, you can say what you want, but you have to execute. It doesn't matter. It's all about execution on Sunday at 1 o' clock," Winslow said. "We're behind this guy. If Matt Simms is in there we're behind him. If you were in there at quarterback, we're behind you too.
"If you're a Jet man, we're with you."