- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Geno Smith has taken 63 of 75 first-team reps this week at quarterback, so it came as no surprise Tuesday when Rex Ryan acknowledged that Smith will start Saturday night when the New York Jets face the Cincinnati Bengals.
The handwriting on the wall is bold and defined. It's only a matter of time -- maybe days -- before Smith is named the permanent starter. Only an injury or an epic meltdown could derail him. He could lock it up with a strong showing against the Bengals. But Ryan wasn't ready for a coronation, not yet.
"For the regular season? No, no, we're not ready to do that," Ryan said. "We're not ready to do that."
Ryan was cagey about naming this week's starter, saying the coaches hadn't finalized a decision, but he finally acquiesced. After all, it's the worst-kept secret in Cortland.
Smith is expected to play about a half against the Bengals. If he gets the start the following week against the New York Giants, when the first team traditionally plays about three quarters, it'll be a fait accompli.
But, of course, we've known the quarterback competition isn't really an open competition, as Michael Vick articulated in the spring. The entire training camp has been geared toward Smith, continuing his development and giving him first dibs on the No. 1 job -- even if general manager John Idzik insists it isn't a tilted competition.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said both quarterbacks have been "outstanding" in camp. They were solid, if not great in last week's victory against the Indianapolis Colts. Smith led the starting unit to a field goal in two series, Vick led it to a touchdown in his only series with the No. 1 group. Vick loved playing behind the top offensive line, and he'd love to do it again, but he doesn't see that as a strong possibility.
"I don't know, it's going to be tough," he said. "This is a week where, I think, the starters are going to play a half. I know what that's about, and I know what it's like and I know the reasoning behind that. So, if not, I have to go out and play with my group and go out there with confidence and try to lead them."
Mornhinweg said it's possible that Vick could play with the starters in Cincinnati. Obviously, it's a delicate balance. They'd like Vick to develop chemistry with the first team -- just in case -- but they don't want to rob Smith of opportunities to gain experience.
3hEric D. Williams