Rookie Geno Smith will start at quarterback over injured veteran Mark Sanchez for the New York Jets in their season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Smith, a second-round pick in this year’s National Football League draft out of West Virginia University, was competing with Sanchez during training camp. Sanchez, the Jets’ starter the past four seasons after being taken fifth overall in the 2009 draft, hasn’t practiced since injuring his shoulder in a preseason game against the New York Giants on Aug. 24.
“Clearly with Mark’s injury, the fact he’s not able to go, that factored into any decision,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said during a news conference. “That being said, we’re very comfortable with Geno. We’re confident as an organization that Geno is going to help get this job done.”
The Jets host the Buccaneers on Sept. 8 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Ryan said Sanchez won’t play at all and that Matt Simms will be the backup quarterback for the game, in which the Buccaneers are favored by three points, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. The Buccaneers acquired All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Jets during the offseason and also added Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson.
“We realize as a team, with a rookie quarterback, the fact that we’re playing Darrelle Revis and their two stud safeties, it’s going to be challenging,” Ryan said. “But our guys are ready to rally behind Geno. The big thing we tell Geno is, ‘You just have to be part of the solution. Don’t think you have to carry this team on your back. That’s not the case.”’
Smith, 22, completed 22 of 37 passing attempts during the preseason for 246 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. All three interceptions came in the Jets’ preseason finale against the Giants, a game in which he also accidentally stepped out of the Jets’ end zone for a safety.
“He’s got a tremendous arm, he’s smooth, but the real question remains whether he’s legitimately ready to handle a West Coast offense,” former Jets quarterback and CBS NFL analyst Boomer Esiason said on a conference call yesterday. “Given his performance against the Giants, it’s potluck at this point, and I don’t think we’ll get a huge game out of him.”
Smith said he’s ready for whatever the Buccaneers hand him in the game.
“They’ll try and rattle my cage,” Smith said. “I expect those guys to come out fired up. They want to make a statement, they’re (facing) a rookie quarterback, definitely want to hit me, get me out of my game. I expect those things and I look forward to it.”
The last rookie quarterback to start a regular season opener for the Jets was Sanchez in 2009.
Sanchez, 26, completed 28 of 42 passing attempts for 266 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in three preseason games. He’s declined to give specifics about his injury or how long it might keep him out, saying only that he’s day-to-day.
Sanchez, who is guaranteed $8.25 million this season, has a bruised joint in his throwing shoulder, according to ESPN. Ryan said Sanchez will remain on the active roster.
“He’s working extremely hard to get back,” Ryan said. “But he’s just not ready right now. It’s similar to last week; we knew he wasn’t ready then. He’s not ready now and we’ll see what the future holds as we move forward.”
Ryan wouldn’t address whether Smith would be the starting quarterback beyond the opening game, while Smith said no one has discussed his position as a starter beyond the season opener.
“Our focus is strictly on this game,” Ryan said. “We’re not thinking past Tampa in anything. Any long-term plan, we’re not thinking about it.”
Sanchez was benched twice last season, when he committed an NFL-high 26 turnovers, including 18 interceptions. He has a league-high 52 turnovers the past two seasons after helping the Jets reach the conference championship game his first two years.
Esiason, a former All-Pro quarterback who played with the Jets from 1993-95 after nine years with the Cincinnati Bengals, said he expects the Jets new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to take as much pressure off Smith as possible.
“I don’t think they want to throw him out there, especially after his performance against the Giants, and ask him to throw 45 times in the game,” Esiason said. “It’s going to be -- let’s protect the quarterback, let’s give him the easy throws, whether it be screen passes, wide receiver screens or in the wildcat offense -- but Marty is going to be taxed.”
Smith, who sprained his ankle in the Jets’ preseason opener last month, said two days ago that he’s almost fully recovered and ready to take over the starting job.
“Physically I think I’ve always been ready,” Smith told reporters. “But I think mentally I’ve grown a lot. My grasp of the offense is to the point where I know I can get out there and execute and be out there leading this offense and leading this team. That’s something that’s going to continue to grow. At this point I’m ready for it.”
The Jets finished 6-10 last year, the team’s fewest wins in five seasons.