For just the second time in franchise history, the New York Jets will start a rookie signalcaller on opening day.
"We're going to go with Geno Smith as our quarterback and we are excited about that," head coach Rex Ryan told me* *of his Week 1 starter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Smith and veteran Mark Sanchez competed for the No. 1 position throughout training camp. After suffering an ankle injury in his preseason debut against the Detroit Lions, Smith toughed out some practices in addition to Week 3 game action against the Giants. Now heading into kickoff weekend, Smith is in a good spot physically.
"That part was important for him to get those practice reps in as well, and I think his confidence physically is at a high level right now," said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "He came out the other day and looked like he was 100 percent."
"Learning Marty's system, he really did a tremendous job, as did all the quarterbacks," Ryan said of Smith. "I think he really fits the system. He's a guy who is very accurate with the football, he has good mobility in the pocket and he's adjusting to the speed of the game."
While Mornhinweg said Smith is "back running and gunning" at the controls, Sanchez has not practiced since suffering an injury to his throwing shoulder in the Jets' OT triumph over New York's NFC representative.
"It's unfortunate that Mark was injured, obviously, but he is working extremely hard to get back," said Ryan when I asked him how much health factored into the decision. "But he's just not ready right now. It's similar to last week — we knew he wasn't ready then. He's not ready now and we'll see what the future holds as we move forward."
The 6'3", 221-pound Smith, who was selected No. 39 overall in April's draft, recorded a 26-13 record as starter at West Virginia. After passing for 11,662 yards in his college career with 98 TDs and just 21 INTs, Smith appeared in two preseason contests, completing 60% of his passes with 1 TD and 3 INTs.
"I know the entire team is confident," Ryan said. "We are definitely confident that Geno's out there and I think all of our guys are looking forward to see what he can do. It's a tough test going against Revis and two Pro Bowl safeties. It's going to be a test, but it's one we're excited about."