The New York Jets are down to two true candidates for their starting job at quarterback.
There are benefits and drawbacks to putting either Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith under center in Week 1. Some of those ingredients will spice up the competition more than others, but the real substance—the proverbial meat and potatoes—is the battle in training camp.
If Geno looks competent running the offense, he will likely earn the starting job. Rex Ryan was vocally disappointed with Sanchez's performance at OTAs, so perhaps Smith earns the starting nod simply by Sanchez proving his way out of the spot.
While the performance at camp should carry the most weight, there are other factors at play.
The Jets will run a West Coast scheme under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and while Sanchez has experience running the scheme at USC, it's not the same offense.
Sanchez's skill set is good for a West Coast quarterback; his quick release and overall solid throwing mechanics are positives he can build on. His poor decision-making is something that can be worked around, especially if the Jets simplify the reads and don't force him to go through his progressions.
Geno Smith is seen as scheme versatile with his solid arm strength and touch, his ability to make quick throws or deep ones, and for his mobility and athleticism. His accuracy issues were mainly on deep throws, while Sanchez had accuracy problems across the board. Geno will have to learn to take snaps from center, but he's far from the first quarterback in NFL history to lack that experience.
Smith was also great throwing screens to his receivers, and there will likely be a lot more of those in Mornhinweg's offense.
That being said, footwork is paramount to a quarterback's success in a West Coast offense. Rhythm is the name of the game, and a half-step too late could be the difference between a completion and an incompletion, or between a touchdown and an interception.
Speaking of feet, the Jets must also decide whether they think it's best to hold Geno's feet to the fire or to wait until the pieces are in place around him. The Jets are going through a lot of changes this offseason, having lost their starting tight end, running back and both starting guards.
Some changes will be for the better (moving on from running back Shonn Greene and trading for Saints running back Chris Ivory is an upgrade no matter how you slice it), but some will be downgrades (just about any quarterback would rather throw passes to tight end Dustin Keller than Jeff Cumberland).
The Jets also have a long-term predicament at wide receiver, with what is essentially a contract year for Santonio Holmes and a key year in the development of both Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. With a lack of depth behind those three, the Jets could once again easily be crippled by even a single injury at that position.
Yes, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and others have entered less-nurturing situations and performed admirably despite their circumstances, not because of them.
In a best-case scenario, the Jets have three viable receivers in Hill, Holmes and Kerley, and a solid running back in Ivory. If the pieces don't fall into place, it's possible the only solid offensive skill players will be Kerley and Ivory—that's if Hill doesn't develop as expected and Holmes is not the same player upon returning from a Lisfranc injury.
Despite his erratic play over the past two years, sticking with Sanchez has its benefits for the Jets. If they feel Geno is the quarterback of the future, but don't feel the offense is ready to house a rookie quarterback, Sanchez could help them bridge the gap while they get their act together.
The best the Jets can hope for is that Geno wins the job outright in camp and gives them no choice but to start him, like quarterback Russell Wilson did for the Seahawks in 2012.
The problem with starting Geno from the beginning of the season is that it opens up the possibility of ruining his development. There may be no better situation for Geno than one that allows him to develop a deep understanding of Mornhinweg's offense while refining his footwork and overall skills as a passer. That would also afford the Jets some time to address the several holes on the offense, including the shaky situation at receiver.
There are merits to starting either one, but the risks of starting Smith this year are greater than they would be in future years when he's had a chance to develop. Meanwhile, the reward of waiting could be a highly athletic quarterback who is ready to do anything he's asked when he finally gets the nod as the starter.
Your move, Rex.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports-Reference.com network, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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