Geno to start; competition not done

Updated: September 5, 2013, 11:12 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPN.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Geno Smith era starts now. But don't get too comfortable, kid.

Explaining their decision Wednesday to name Smith the quarterback for the season opener -- a move that was expected for several days -- the New York Jets muddled the situation by refusing to commit to the rookie beyond Week 1.

"We're having a competition between quarterbacks, and that competition isn't finished," owner Woody Johnson said.

Smith got the call over Mark Sanchez, but it was a virtual no-brainer because Sanchez is rehabbing a bruised joint in his throwing shoulder. Rex Ryan confirmed Sanchez won't play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is expected to miss a few weeks, sources said.

This was an easy call for Ryan, but it could become messy if Smith is struggling when Sanchez gets healthy. That probably explains why Ryan declined to give a long-term commitment to Smith, whose spotty play in the preseason didn't warrant an iron-clad vote of confidence. Ryan likely wanted to leave himself with an out.

Even though general manager John Idzik didn't rule out the possibility of Sanchez becoming the starter again, the organization has moved away from the onetime face of the franchise. He won't go on injured reserve, Idzik said, and he won't be released, according to Johnson, who doesn't want to eat the guaranteed $8.25 million salary. But, according to sources, the Jets' preference is to keep him on the bench.

Essentially, Sanchez could end up being this year's version of Tim Tebow -- cast aside and forgotten.

Ryan wouldn't say whether Smith got the job because of Sanchez's injury, and he wouldn't say whether Smith "won" the summerlong competition. The Jets didn't provide many straight answers, preferring to use the day to rally around the second-round pick out of West Virginia.

"We're very comfortable with Geno," Ryan said. "As an organization, we're confident Geno will help us get the job done."

If Smith truly is being evaluated on a week-to-week basis, it could send a mixed message to the locker room, causing players to wonder about the organization's belief in Smith.

Tight end Kellen Winslow acknowledged it will create a challenge.

"It does," Winslow said. "But, whatever. Bring it."

Smith wasn't about to question the level of commitment to him. He was happy to have the job, especially after an uneven summer. He missed a preseason game with a sprained ankle, is still not 100 percent and threw three interceptions against the New York Giants.

"I've got to earn it," Smith said. "Nothing is given to you in this league."

Sanchez declined to speak to reporters.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Icon SMIGeno Smith has gotten the call to start in Week 1 for the Jets against the Buccaneers.

Idzik, who has been preaching "competition" from the day he was hired this past January, scoffed at the notion that Smith could be unnerved by an ongoing battle at the position.

"You can call it 'looking over his shoulder,' but I call it competition," Idzik said.

In all likelihood, Sanchez would have been named the starter if he hadn't been injured, sources said, but it created an opening for the organization to elevate Smith, albeit at a huge risk. He hasn't played in two weeks and threw three interceptions in a span of 12 passes against the Giants.

Smith was sharp in the first two weeks of training camp, and team officials kept referring to that when explaining the rookie's upside.

"I'm ready," said Smith, who played only 69 snaps in the preseason. "I don't think I've been rushed. They wouldn't put me out there if they didn't think I was ready."

Ryan acknowledged there will be "challenges" with a rookie, but he said the Jets won't have to create a simplified game plan. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg likely will incorporate shotgun and pistol formations into the scheme, closer to what Smith experienced at West Virginia.

"We'll go through some ups and downs, I can guarantee you that," Mornhinweg told the team website. "Knowing Geno, hopefully there will be more ups than downs. The whole team has to be part of this. Everybody has to play just a notch above for him to perform at a high level."

Smith said he expects exotic looks and early pressure from the Bucs.

"They'll try to rattle my cage," he said. "I expect those guys to come out fired up. They want to make a statement [against a rookie]. They want to hit me and get me out of my game."

Asked whether he can be rattled, Smith looked at the reporter and gave a one-word answer:

"No."

The Jets also have Matt Simms and newly signed journeyman Brady Quinn on the roster. Simms will be the No. 2 quarterback against the Bucs.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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