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Thursday, August 22, 2013
Updated: August 23, 3:40 PM ET
Questionable call to rush rookie Geno

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For an organization that wants to be a reflection of its new general manager -- John the Deliberate -- the New York Jets are certainly rushing into dangerous territory. By starting Geno Smith Saturday night against the New York Giants with a plan to play him for at least a half, the Jets are handing the rookie quarterback a gold-plated opportunity to claim the starting job.

This is the third preseason game -- closest thing to the regular season -- and coaches don't like to waste reps on players who can't help the team. They're giving Smith two to three quarters because they believe he has a legitimate chance to unseat Mark Sanchez.

And you have to question the wisdom behind that thinking.

Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith are locked in a head-to-head quarterback battle.
Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith are locked in a head-to-head quarterback battle for the Jets' starting job.

Rex Ryan and his offensive coaches say it wouldn't be a fair competition if they didn't give the kid a long look, but where is it written that all competitions have to be fair? Smith sprained an ankle and it cost him a game. Tough luck, but injuries are part of the game.

So now, instead of using the third game to build chemistry on offense and get comfortable with Marty Mornhinweg's system, the Jets are trotting out a rookie who might or might not be a starting-caliber quarterback in the league. A rookie whose résumé consists of only 14 snaps in the preseason.

If Smith flops and the job goes to Sanchez, the Jets will have wasted 30 or so prime reps against a first-team defense. And they can't make it up in the preseason finale, traditionally a Backup Bowl.

Truth be told, they've been all-in with Smith for the entire week, giving him first-team reps each day. If a stranger parachuted into practice, he'd have assumed Smith is the permanent starter.

What the Jets are really saying is they're desperate to put Sanchez on the bench. Isn't it interesting that owner Woody Johnson tweeted a photo of Smith in Thursday's practice? The tweet said: "Working hard for Saturday."

People who spoke to Johnson after Sanchez's embarrassing performance in Tennessee on Dec. 17 said he was utterly disgusted with his onetime franchise quarterback. They say there was a "never again" look in his eyes.

You can bet Johnson isn't thrilled by the prospect of opening a new season –- at home, no less –- with the same old quarterback getting booed by his PSL-paying customers. He doesn't want that kind of karma in his stadium, and when Johnson doesn't want something -- well, look what he did to Darrelle Revis.

This isn't to suggest that Johnson is picking the quarterback. But the man he picked to run the football operation -- John Idzik -- is the guy who picked Smith in the second round. It's not that hard to figure out.

Based on the current evidence -- it could change Saturday night -– Smith isn't ready to run an NFL offense. He won't pull a Russell Wilson because, unlike the Seattle Seahawks' phenom, Smith has no background with a West Coast offense.

This is brand new, and Smith has a lot to learn about being a quarterback and handling adversity. During his "brutal" practice last week, he asked out, according to a source. Maybe it was because of his ankle or maybe it was because he was disgusted with himself. Or maybe it was both.

Smith needs to mature, and there's no sin in that.

For all his faults, Sanchez is experienced and can help settle the offense as it deals with the inevitable growing pains of a new system. At least he's won in Foxborough, where Bill Belichick will be waiting in Week 2. That's a Thursday night game, meaning only three days of prep -- an enormous challenge for a rookie.

Despite a few glaring mistakes, Sanchez hasn't played his way out of a job. He also hasn't made people forget the 26 turnovers last season. Then again, this preseason isn't about him. It's about Smith and his learning curve.

But why the rush? It's a long season, and we all know a quarterback change probably will happen at some point. Why force the issue? It belies Idzik's methodical approach. And remember, it would be easier to go from Sanchez to Smith than vice versa.

Maybe Smith will make them look like geniuses with a transcendent game against the Giants. If he's a couple of notches below transcendent -- good, but not convincing in the eyes of the coaches -- it'll still rile up the fan base, pressuring the organization to start Smith. That would make it tougher for Sanchez, if that's possible.

Ryan tried to downplay expectations.

"I don't want to say, 'Look, he has to look like Phil Simms in the Super Bowl,'" he said, alluding to Simms' classic 22-for-25 day in Super Bowl XXI.

If Smith pitches a near-perfect game, it'll make Sanchez the highest-paid backup in the league. It would generate a buzz around the team, and Johnson lives for the buzz. But how many championships has that produced?