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When Ainge Gets the Call, He'll Be Ready

During the Jets' third preseason game against the Giants on Saturday night, the quarterbacks could be used something like this:

Starter Mark Sanchez will probably play through halftime, fourth-stringer Chris Pizzotti will make his pro debut at the start of the third quarter, and second-stringer Kellen Clemens will get a good amount of playing time after that.

It's hard to say when third QB Erik Ainge will get his chance.

"I'm sure it will be later on in the game," said Ainge, "but in games like this that's usually when they're won or lost, so I could be going in there when the game is on the line. So that could be fun.

"But regardless of how much I play, even if it's just a series, you go out there and perform well and you don't worry about numbers and all that stuff. You just go out and play good and build off that."

In the Monday night game at Baltimore, Ainge and the Jets built an 18-play, 74-yard final drive that ended when the quarterback powered in for the 1-yard touchdown with 22 seconds to play to cut the Jets' deficit to 24-23. Rather than kicking the extra point and taking the game to overtime, head coach Rex Ryan decided to go for the two-point conversion, an Ainge pass that Baltimore defensed.

Despite the outcome of the call, Ainge appreciates his coach's venturesome attitude.

"In a preseason game he is going for the win. In a regular-season game he might go for the extra point," Ainge said. "But we're out there trying to win and I like that. We respond well to that.

"There was a fourth down early in the game that we went for and you're on the sideline ... you could tell he was just like 'Let's go get it.' That gives the offense so much confidence — 'If Coach thinks we can do it, let's go do it.' It filters down from him onto all of us."

In the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room, Ainge is separated from QB Kellen Clemens by only a few lockers. After Ryan named QB Mark Sanchez the starter Wednesday, the second-year backup empathized with the guy he worked alongside last season.

"I think Kellen handled it the best he could," said Ainge. "Of course, he was upset — I would be. But that doesn't mean that he's not happy for Mark and it doesn't mean that he's not going to compete in practice to try to just beat him out every day. It's not like everything is set in stone for the next 10 years."

Ainge admires the hard-working mentality that Clemens brings to the team regardless of his place on the depth chart.

"He takes that approach. You can tell in meetings, and he's just as sharp in practice," said Ainge. "There is no lag or lax time in between what he's doing. He goes out there and tries to beat him out still every single day, and I think that will make us all better quarterbacks.

"He's our No. 2 quarterback right now and I guarantee if you ask anybody in this locker room everybody has confidence in our second string quarterback if something was to happen."

Ainge said his focus now is to keep working on the fundamentals of his game.

"I can make all the throws. If something gets screwed up, I can improv and run around and make plays. I can do that stuff," he said. "What I need to do is take the drop the right way every time so when we have good protection, every ball I'm supposed to complete, I can complete."

Ryan thinks highly of Ainge, who held off Pizzotti with his solid play in training camp.

"We have a super No. 3 quarterback. That's what he's shown me," the coach said. "Could he be a No. 2 or a starter in this league? Probably. When we ended up drafting Sanchez, I never thought we could split the reps three ways. Is it fair to him? All he does is go out and play.

"Will he get a chance one day to be the starting quarterback of the Jets? He may. Joe Flacco went into the second-to-last preseason game [for the Ravens last year] as the No. 3 quarterback and the rest is history."

Though Ainge might not be called upon much in the third preseason game, his magic number is four — whether it's the fourth quarter or the fourth preseason game, the second-year QB will be standing by until he hears his name called.

"As the third-string quarterback, that's what I'm trying to do in the preseason is to go play well," he said, "so that if something happens to both of them, these guys can have the confidence in me that I can go out and get the job done."

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