Rex Ryan didn't wait till Wednesday to declare his quarterback rotation for Friday night's preseason opener at Detroit: It'll be Mark Sanchez, then rookie Geno Smith vs. the Lions.
"It's been an even competition, we've been rotating days and things like that. Certainly Mark's the incumbent," the Jets head coach said at his news conference today at SUNY Cortland. "Again, the competition starts off and we'll see where it goes from here, but it seemed like the natural thing to do."
Sanchez, of course, has been the Jets' starting quarterback ever since arriving as the fifth pick of the draft in 2009. He's started 62 of 64 regular-season games, all six postseason games, and nine of the 12 preseason games.
Plus he's had two strong practices this week in his back-and-forth competition with Smith, the second-round rookie out of West Virginia. In general, Sanchez was again accurate today as he worked with the first offense, and in particular he lasered nice over-the-middle passes to TE Kellen Winslow and WR Stephen Hill in 11-on-11 drills and hit WR Clyde Gates for a 40-yarder in 1-on-1 work.
Neither QB spoke today after holding news conferences after Monday's practice. On the Jets' official depth chart released Monday evening, the first teamer is listed as a slash situation: Sanchez/Smith. Ryan reminded this is just the first preseason game ahead, implying perhaps that Smith could get his starting turn a week from Saturday night at home against Jacksonville.
"You know, the preseason doesn't end after the first preseason game," Rex said. "We'll talk it through as much as possible and we said this is going to be an equal competition and that's exactly what it is."
CB Ellis Lankster's day of practice wasn't perfect but it was pretty darned good, and it came at the expense of Geno Smith. He reeled in a Smith pass over his head for an interception (reporters have called it Geno's first INT of camp in team drills, although we documented his picks in 7-on-7's to Isaiah Trufant and Nick Bellore in the past week).
"As far as throwing the ball and reading his keys, Geno's coming along fast," Lankster said. "He's learning from Mark. He and Mark help each other out. It's good to play against both of them, because both of them have their own style, but they both throw the ball."
But today Lankster was on a lot of Smith's throws. In addition to the pick, he deflected two Geno passes intended for K.J. Stroud.
And on the last play of the day, Lankster nearly did it again, laying out and tipping a pass from Greg McElroy to Joseph Collins for a juggling back-of-the-end-zone TD catch.
"Yes sir, I had it in my hands but he snatched it from me," Lankster said. "It was a great catch. My coaches told me it was a great catch and a great effort by me."
I pressed Lankster on how his best efforts today measured up against other practices at this camp.
"I'm going to say I've had other good days this camp," he replied. "This is the day, though, that I made the most plays on the ball."
More such plays are needed for Lankster to survive the battle behind the big three corners, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner. Darrin Walls is listed as No. 2 behind Cro and ahead of Lankster, and Trufant, Royce Adams and Mike Edwards are also fighting for those precious nickel spots.
For that reason Lankster is looking forward not just to an opportunity to play vs. the Lions but also in all the preseason games.
"To me, every preseason game's going to count," he said. "But you know me. On special teams and on defense, I'm going to give it my all."
Quinton Coples, now officially listed as an LB on the Jets' roster and depth chart, had a nice chasedown of RB Bilal Powell on a toss, but Powell continued to find room to run again. ... Stroud couldn't hold a 50-yard on-the-money ball from QB Matt Simms. ... WR Vidal Hazelton, who's flashed a lot, was sidelined for the rest of practice by a right leg injury.