FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The Jets finally made a quarterback decision -- for Saturday's game, not the season.
A day after Rex Ryan said he wasn't ready to name a starter for their third preseason game against the Giants, he finally delivered the expected news that Geno Smith will get live first-team reps for the first time.
"It's not a surprise, I think . . . " the coach said yesterday, the fourth straight day Smith practiced with the starters.
Mark Sanchez also will play, but the team hasn't determined how to divvy up playing time.
There's also one other issue the Jets haven't yet figured out: which quarterback will start Week 1 of the regular season, but they are in no rush to publicly hand over the starting job. Stressing the importance of "a thorough evaluation," Ryan reiterated this is "not the appropriate time" because their quarterback data is "incomplete" because Smith was sidelined by a sprained right ankle last week.
"We'll see what happens after this game," Ryan said. "The main thing is that it's the right decision at the right time."
And the "right time" could come after their fourth preseason game Aug. 29 against the Eagles, he said.
Although the coaching staff has four years of film and offseason grades on Sanchez, the sample size on Smith is far too small to judge, quarterbacks coach David Lee said. And, according to Lee, Smith's performance Saturday won't be enough to win him the job outright.
"We've got to keep going," he said. "Let's keep letting them compete. Let's go to the Philly game." He then said with a laugh: "There's no hurry. There is to you [guys], obviously, but there's not to us."
Ryan said preseason competition is at its "highest" during the third game but wouldn't say what he hopes to see from Smith. "I don't want to say, 'Look, he's got to look like Phil Simms in the Super Bowl,' " he said, referring to the former Giants quarterback who completed 22 of 25 passes and was MVP in the Giants' Super Bowl XXI win over the Broncos.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg touted Smith as athletic and "highly talented," but he noted Smith's lack of experience. "He's only had a handful of plays in a preseason game," he said.
Sanchez dipped early in training camp, while Smith faltered of late. And the rookie's progress was further impeded by the injury. But Lee said the Jets did "exactly the right thing" by having Smith push through practice last week.
"There is a difference between being hurt and being injured. We needed him to suck it up and go, and he did," Lee said, adding that Thursday "was by far the quickest and the best" Smith has looked.
Sanchez, meanwhile, has been playing with "a toe big enough to pull a half dollar out of it" due to a nail infection, Lee said. But he's still having "a terrific camp," according to Mornhinweg.
Behind closed doors, the Jets front office and coaching staff have discussed the possibility that neither quarterback "elevates" himself. If that happens, instinct takes over, Mornhinweg said.
Right now, the competition is too close to call -- even for Lee. "It's kind of been an emotional up-and-down deal," he said.
In 2009, the Jets announced their starting QB (Sanchez over Kellen Clemens) before the third preseason game, but Ryan said they aren't dragging out the process just to see if Smith will be ready for the season opener.
"Believe me, I understand that the quarterback will be a huge decision," Ryan said. "But the main thing is that we feel great about the decision."