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Sanchez, Smith in tight competition to be Jets' starter

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The Canadian Press
6/12/2013 7:52:19 PM
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets' quarterback competition is still wide open -- with no clear-cut winner in sight.

Rex Ryan isn't sure whether it'll be Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith, and he's in no rush to decide. It's only minicamp, after all, and preseason games are still two months away.

And that's when the Jets might get a better idea of who'll be under centre for them in Week 1 against Tampa Bay.

Maybe.

"We'll know when we know," quarterbacks coach David Lee said Wednesday, "but we don't know right now."

That about sums it all up when it comes to the quarterbacks -- and it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just that neither Sanchez nor Smith have pulled away yet.

Lee said both players have taken turns looking good and then "real good" and then not too good at all.

"They've done it together and they haven't made it easy," said Lee, in his first season with New York. "They won't separate right now, but we've got time."

While some would expect Sanchez, going into his fifth season, to be clearly ahead of Smith, a second-round pick out of West Virginia, both players are still learning offensive co-ordinator Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast-style offence.

"We'll continue to look at both of them, split reps, and as soon as we know, 'Hey, he's the guy,' we'll let you know," Lee said. "But right now, we don't know."

Sanchez has worked extensively on holding onto the ball to limit turnovers, which have plagued him the last two seasons. He had 52 of them -- 26 in each year -- during that period and it has cost the Jets some games. So, Lee has focused on having Sanchez grasp the ball with both hands, leaving his left hand on the ball as he drops back.

"Yesterday was the first time he kept two hands on the ball," Lee said, "and that's after nine OTAs and a minicamp."

And, that's not all: The Jets run through a "gauntlet" drill during which they try to knock the football loose. Oh, and it's called "The Sanchez Drill."

"He hates it," Lee said.

Through it all, Sanchez still insists he is having his best off-season as a pro, and is feeling increasingly more comfortable working in Mornhinweg's system.

"I just love what we're doing," Sanchez said. "When you're excited about something like that, when you're coming in hanging on the guy's every word, knowing that he's had so much success, knowing that we have the pieces here to put ourselves in a position to have success like that, it's exciting. It's exciting stuff.

"So, it makes you work that much harder and find a way to just improve on the little things each and every day and keep rolling."

Sanchez has made it clear to his coaches that he's taking this competition seriously, and he fully intends to keep his starting job -- even if some media and fans believe his time in New York is nearly up.

"I think maybe there was some kind of notion that I'd be so upset they would draft a quarterback, that whole deal, that I'd just turn it in," Sanchez said. "That's crazy. It's crazy talk."

Smith, meanwhile, is a work-in-progress who has focused on his footwork and accuracy, among other things.

"It's been a brand-new world every day," Lee said of Smith. "Just struggling with the basic things, snap count at the line of scrimmage, the delivery at the line of scrimmage could be more consistent, little things are what's really killing him. But he's competed well and he's showing a really good arm and he gets better every day, and he's going to hear it all for the second time during training camp, so I expect him to get even better quicker."

Smith ran the first-team offence during the second practice of minicamp Wednesday, as the Jets have been rotating the quarterbacks throughout the off-season practices.

"I mean, I've improved, subtle improvements," Smith said. "But you won't know until you actually get some reps in live-game situations. But from the point I was when I got here to the point I am now, I have improved. But there's still a long ways to go.

Ryan indicated that the Jets could be open to having Smith run some read-option plays -- despite it not working with Tim Tebow last season -- if Sanchez wins the starting job.

"I know what everybody's thinking if we did that, ugh, didn't we try that last year?" Ryan said. "I think certainly that's a possibility. To probably make assumptions now probably isn't the thing to do. We'll let this thing pan out and we'll see."

Smith didn't have running plays designed for him at West Virginia, but his athleticism made him a threat to make plays outside the pocket -- something that could translate in the NFL.

"That's a part of my game," he said. "I like to think my game is based within the pocket. I do things within the pocket, but I can use my athletic abilities outside of it. I think that's a part of being an all-around player and I think it helps me a lot."

After Thursday's minicamp session, the Jets have no formal practices together until training camp in Cortland, N.Y., at the end of July. Most players say they'll mostly remain close to the facility and continue working out and learning their playbooks.

Sanchez will also put together his annual "Jets West" camp with the skill position players on offence at his former high school in Mission Viejo, Calif. Smith said he had no comment on whether he would attend the session, but Sanchez later said that everyone's invited -- as they always are.

Meanwhile, at least one Jets player had a prediction on who will be the team's starting quarterback when the season starts.

"I think (Sanchez) is going to be our guy," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes, recovering from a foot injury that has kept him off the field since early last season. "The coaches brought him back and they kept him on this team for a reason. He's a great leader and he's got great potential and he's excited about this season upcoming. And, so am I."

Notes: RB Mike Goodson did not practice after spending the morning at a court hearing in Morristown to be informed that the drug and weapons case against him is heading to a grand jury. Goodson and a friend were arrested last month after they were found in a car stopped on Interstate 80. Goodson has pleaded not guilty. ... Lee said backup QB Matt Simms, son of former Giants star Phil, has "a cannon for an arm," adding that it's the "best arm" of the Jets' four quarterbacks on the roster. "If his accuracy was better," Lee said, "he'd be thicker in the hunt."

Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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