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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Quarterback competitions are wrapping up this week throughout the NFL, but the New York Jets continued Tuesday to take an intentional delay-of-name.
Rex Ryan won't announce his Week 1 starter until Sunday at the earliest. He wouldn't reveal his plans for Saturday night against the New York Giants, although a league source confirmed what has been apparent for several days: Rookie Geno Smith will start the game if his sore ankle holds up through practice.
The Jets are taking an unconventional approach, waiting until after the third preseason game. On Tuesday, the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles announced their starters. On Monday, the Jacksonville Jaguars named theirs.
"I don't think it sets us back," Ryan said. "We'll let the other teams choose to name their starters whenever. For us, we're not comfortable making that decision right now. We want to have a thorough evaluation of our quarterbacks before we make that decision."
Ryan acknowledged it isn't "normal protocol" to take so long, but their master plan changed because Smith missed last week's game with a sprained ankle. Smith has played only 14 snaps in the preseason (Sanchez is up to 75), and the organization wants to take a good look at a healthy Smith before rendering a verdict.
Despite two costly interceptions, Sanchez is seen as the frontrunner. He's had some positive moments, having led the team to 17 points in three quarters of action with the first-team offense. Obviously, Smith still has a puncher's chance or else they wouldn't be willing to give him prime reps in the all-important third preseason game.
Smith took the majority of the first-team reps for the second straight day in practice, completing 11 of 12 passes in team drills. He was intercepted in 7-on-7, but he was dramatically better than last Wednesday, when Ryan blasted him for a "brutal" performance.
"He looked good," Ryan of Smith's Tuesday outing. "I still don't think he's 100 percent, but he's certainly getting closer to that. I thought he had his moments where he threw the ball well."
Tuesday's practice was witnessed by more than 20 Jets alumni, former players from the 1960s, 70s and 80s that were invited guests. Of the dozen players interviewed by ESPNNewYork.com, nine said they preferred Sanchez as the opening-day starter. Three were undecided, saying they need to see more of Smith before making up their minds.
"I'm not a big Mark Sanchez fan, but I'm a realist," said Bobby Jackson, a cornerback in the 1980s. "He gives them the best chance to win."
Former tight end Richard Caster, one of Joe Namath's favorite targets in the 1970s, also said he'd start Sanchez. But he's willing to reconsider.
"Unless (Smith) is super-duper, out of this world against the Giants, I'd go with the proven commodity," Caster said. Jeff Richardson, an offensive lineman on the Super Bowl III team, cast his vote for Sanchez. But he added: "I could switch. I'm not married to Sanchez by any means. He's given me some disappointing times."