Mark Sanchez to start vs. Jags

Updated: August 15, 2013, 4:35 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Jets have a knack for creating quarterback drama.

Explaining his decision to start Mark Sanchez Saturday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Rex Ryan cited two factors Thursday: Geno Smith's sore ankle and Sanchez's strong week of practice.

From all indications, Sanchez has moved ahead of the rookie, but Ryan refused to acknowledge the obvious. All he did was create more questions about a quarterback competition that has been raging for four months.

Ryan wouldn't say if Smith will play Saturday night. He wouldn't say if Smith would play the following week against the New York Giants. He wouldn't say when the opening-day starter will be determined.

And he wouldn't back down from his harsh evaluation of Smith's mistake-filled practice Wednesday.

"I said the truth," Ryan said. "It was a brutal day."

Sanchez will play with the starters for the first half against Jacksonville. Ryan reiterated that Smith's mildly sprained ankle still isn't 100 percent. That, he said, was the "main factor" for starting Sanchez again -- but not the only factor.

"The decision wasn't necessarily flat based on, could he start or could he not start?" Ryan said of Smith. "It was the fact that, sure, there's the ankle situation, but also the fact that Mark has practiced extremely well. That's what led to our decision. It's not just one or the other. It's probably the combination of those two things."

This means Sanchez has outperformed Smith for two consecutive weeks in practice, according to public comments by the coaching staff. But Ryan wasn't about to hand the job to his embattled incumbent, not after Sanchez's interception for a touchdown in the preseason opener.

"This competition is not complete," Ryan said. "When it is, when we feel we have enough information, we'll make our decision. We're not going to get into, 'Who's ahead? Who's not?' I'll say right now, the competition is not complete. There's still time to make that decision."

The feeling close to the team is that the competition will be extended to include the third preseason game. The Jets want to give a fair shot to Smith, whose hot start in camp had people in the organization thinking he'd win the job.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsMark Sanchez will start for the second straight week, this time against the Jaguars on Saturday in the Jets' second preseason game.

Smith hurt his right ankle in the opener and, although he hasn't missed any practice time, it has affected his performance, according to Ryan. Thursday's practice was closed to the media, but Ryan revealed that Smith was restricted to riding a stationary bike.

"I can't really tell you if Geno will play in this game or not," Ryan said.

If Smith doesn't play, he'd have four days of rest before beginning to practice for the Giants -- the likely scenario. That way, they'd have a chance to evaluate a presumably healthy Smith in an extended outing.

The downside to extending the competition is that it could hurt the overall development of the offense. Traditionally, the starters are in place by the third preseason game and they play three quarters in what amounts to a regular-season dress rehearsal.

The Jets won't have that benefit if they're still evaluating. If Sanchez is lights out against the Jaguars, it's possible that Ryan could declare him the winner. But that wouldn't be fair to Smith, who played only 14 snaps against the Lions.

GM John Idzik, who said he will have "a pretty big role" in the decision, wants Smith to have every opportunity to win the job. Smith got off to a terrific start in camp, but he has faded over the past week. On Wednesday, he threw three interceptions (plus another in 7-on-7 drills), prompting a scathing evaluation from Ryan.

"Look, every player has those days, that's the realithy of it," he said. "Has he had some phenomenal days? Absolutely, he has.

"It was a poor practice. The fact that I said it, I never sugar-coated it. I said the truth. If you have a problem with it, I'm telling the truth. It was a poor day. It was a brutal day. Four or five interceptions, I don't know what else you can call it."

The Jets have been criticized for allowing Smith to practice on a tender ankle. Ryan defended the decision, saying he was cleared by the trainers and claiming Smith needed to be on the field because the offense was installing new plays.

"I think those reps are valuable," Ryan said.

Perhaps Smith had an inkling after practice that he wouldn't start Saturday night. Asked if he wanted to start the second game, he said, "No comment. Next question."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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