This summer's hot-topic question has finally been answered. Geno Smith will line up under center as the starter for Sunday's season opener against Tampa Bay.
"Our whole team is confident in Geno," head coach Rex Ryan said. "We recognize the challenges of a rookie quarterback, but I think each one of us will pick our own game up."
The second-round rookie out of West Virginia is "accepting all challenges."
"To have an opportunity to be a starting quarterback as a rookie in this league is great," Smith said, "but I'm not here to celebrate. I'm still working hard, still trying to prepare myself, mind and body, to go out there and have a great game."
After injuring his ankle in the preseason opener, Smith seemed to lose some zip on the ball, but his ankle has been "steadily improving."
"I feel good," he said. "I'm able to jog, I'm able to run full speed, do all those things that I'm accustomed to. So it's something I've just got to continue to stick with, and it will get better."
While his injury cost him valuable live-game reps, it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. He's been watching video on Darrelle Revis and the Buccaneers' defense since the moment he heard that he would be sitting out last week's preseason finale vs. the Eagles.
"I'm ready," he said of starting his first career NFL game. "I don't think I've been rushed. I don't think they'd put me out there if they didn't think I was ready. I've been preparing my butt off, and I'm going to go out there with the intent to have a great game."
Mark Sanchez will miss the season opener with his injured right shoulder, leaving first-year quarterback Matt Simms as No. 2 on Sunday's depth chart, ahead of newly added veteran Brady Quinn.
"I will say this about Mark," Rex said, "He's doing a great job rehabbing the injury and he's doing a great job being with Geno in the meetings, on the field and everything else."
Ryan emphasized multiple times during today's post-practice news conference that the team's only focus at the moment is on the first game of the season, leaving the door open on a quarterback decision for the weeks ahead.
"The competition from my understanding is still going," Smith said. "The only word that I got was regarding this week and that was it. I've got to earn it. Nothing's given in this league, so I'm going to go out there and I'm going to do that."
LB Antwan Barnes played in Baltimore during the 2008 season when the team decided to start then-rookie QB Joe Flacco, and he sees strong parallels between the reigning Super Bowl MVP and No. 7.
"They're just ready quarterbacks," Barnes said. "I have the utmost confidence in him."
Geno Smith's physical and mental readiness for the game will be crucial components toward our starting the season with a win, but the quarterback's performance will be only one of many keys to success. "We don't need him to go out and do it himself," Rex said. "It's a big puzzle, and he's just part of that puzzle. His piece might be a little bigger than some, but he's just part of the puzzle."