One day after watching the rookie commit four turnovers in a 37-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Ryan said he may give backup Matt Simms some first-team reps this week as the Jets prepare for a road game against the Baltimore Ravens.
"Yeah, that's something we could look at," Ryan said Monday.
For Ryan, who has benched his starting quarterback only once in four-plus seasons, that statement is tantamount to a warning flare.
Ryan reiterated that Smith will start "this game," but he recognizes the Jets (5-5) have little chance of making the playoffs if the turnovers continue at the current pace. Smith leads the league with 20, including 16 interceptions.
"We've got to get him dialed-in better," Ryan said.
The coach also put wide receiver Stephen Hill on notice, saying the former second-round pick could lose his starting job. Hill, held without a catch for the second game in a row, has only 23 receptions.
Ryan chose his words carefully when critiquing Smith's latest performance, but he left little doubt that he believes the former West Virginia star was rattled by the Bills' pressure. On the first series, he got the wind knocked out of him and sat out for a play when he was blasted in the chest by defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who later remarked that Smith wasn't the same after that.
Ryan didn't dispute that.
"Normally, the strength of Geno is his pocket presence and pocket awareness," he said. "Whether it was because he was taking hits, I feel he never had the feel he normally does. The fact that he got hit, and hit hard a few times, might have had something to do with it."
Ryan said Smith "has a chance to be a good quarterback," but he pulled him in the fourth quarter for the second straight time in a loss. It would be a gamble to start Simms at some point -- his experience consists of two mop-up appearances -- but Ryan is coaching for his job and could get desperate.
The No. 3 quarterback is veteran journeyman David Garrard, 35, but he has yet to dress for a game and hasn't taken a snap since 2010. Ryan made it clear he prefers Simms over Garrard in the No. 2 spot. Garrard came out of retirement last month, in large part, to serve as a mentor to Smith.
Smith said he's not worried about losing his job, but he understands why it's an issue.
"Am I surprised? No, I think every player in the NFL, everyone's job is on the line, every single person," he said. "That's day to day. No one's job is 100 percent secure."
The Jets don't have a lot of money invested in Smith, a second-round pick, and they've yet to anoint him as the permanent starter. One of the objectives this season is to determine if he's the long-term answer. If they decide he's not, they may have to draft another quarterback.
Asked if he's concerned that he's running out of time to prove himself, Smith said, "No, I haven't seen a timer on that, so, no I don't have any concerns."
But the Jets are concerned. In the last five games, Smith has only one touchdown pass and eight interceptions -- a passer rating of 48.0. In the first five games, his rating was 80.3.
On Sunday, Smith's rating was 10.1, the lowest by a Jets starter since Mark Sanchez registered an 8.3 as a rookie in 2009. Smith completed only 8 of 23 passes for 103 yards and three interceptions.
Despite having turnover-prone quarterbacks throughout his tenure, Ryan has remained patient, perhaps too patient. He didn't bench Sanchez until Week 15 last season, when they already were out of contention.
Maybe Ryan is hoping to scare Smith by mentioning that Simms could get some reps. He tried the same tactic with Sanchez in 2010, giving then-backup Mark Brunell a few reps in practice.
Ryan didn't dump all the blame on Smith, saying the pass protection was suspect and the receivers failed to get open against man-to-man coverage. But he added: "We have to protect the football better, first and foremost on offense. And it hasn't happened."