It might well be the beginning of the end of the Mark Sanchez era.
Geno Smith was named the Jets’ starter for the preseason game at the Giants on Saturday, giving the rookie from West Virginia his first start of preseason. Last weekend, Smith was a scratch from the preseason win over the Jaguars as an ankle injury in the first preseason game derailed any chance to start. Mark Sanchez, who started 15 games last year for the Jets, will also play.
Both starters were relatively solid on Thursday but Smith looked particularly splendid on Wednesday in 11-on-11 drills.
“It seems like he looks good,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “The ankle looks better than it did last week. I’m excited to see him.”
After a solid rookie minicamp, Smith had struggles during offseason workouts and June’s minicamp as he showed a lack of understanding of the offense and failed to connect with his deep ball. But at the beginning of training camp, Smith emerged as a true contender for the starting job as the second-round pick looked more comfortable in his transition from West Virginia’s shotgun offense to being primarily under center.
His footwork is still a struggle and his timing — including holding onto the ball too long — continues to be an area for improvement.
Ryan wouldn’t say how much Smith or Sanchez will play against the Giants but it is clear the rookie is getting better and improving.
“Footwork [has] gotten better. It struggled big time in that last week in Cortland when he got hurt and pushed through those practices,” quarterback coach David Lee said. “It really affected his footwork. We felt like he went backwards a little bit but he pushed through it. But from a mental standpoint, we feel like he got mentally tougher from it. And now today was by far the quickest and best that he’s looked.”
Lee praised Smith for his audibles at the line in Thursday’s practice, which he cited as proof of the quarterback’s continued grasp of the Jets’ West Coast offense.
As far as handicapping the competition, Lee said it was “too close to call.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.