Jets QB Ainge quietly playing well, gaining confidence

While Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens have gained

While Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens have gained all the media attention this spring, Erik Ainge has quietly performed well. (Credit: AP Photo)

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All the pregame hoopla surrounded the opponent's backup quarterback in the Jets' preseason finale against the Eagles last Thursday, but that didn't matter to Erik Ainge.

While everyone's eyes were about to fixate on Michael Vick to see if he still had it, Ainge was supremely confident he was going to have his moments that night. He told anyone who would listen. He was about to finish off the preseason in style.

"He let us know before the game that he was ready to go," rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez said after the Jets' 38-27 win over the Eagles. "A lot of people were talking about Michael Vick being in town, and he was like, 'Be ready for the Erik Ainge Show.' He proved himself right and he had a heck of a night."

Ainge was 10-for-17 for 160 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles, just the latest dazzling performance from the second-year quarterback out of Tennessee. He finished the preseason 28-for-49 for 435 yards and four touchdowns without an interception and had a lofty quarterback rating of 113.9.

This after spending the first seven games on the inactive list as the Jets' fourth-string quarterback last season before he was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. It's all a credit, Ainge says, to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.

"It obviously was a lot of fun to get a lot more opportunities to play this preseason than last preseason," Ainge said, "and I feel like Schotty and Cav - as much work as they've done with me in the offseason even though I'm not the starter - they've helped me as much as they've helped Mark in practice. And I think that's really paid dividends for me."

Schottenheimer and Cavanaugh worked constantly with Ainge on his footwork during the offseason, and it has improved his rhythm in the pocket.

"In college, I would just kind of hang back there," Ainge said, "and wait for guys to get open and just kind of chuck it to them."

But he's learned that isn't going to fly in this league, and he has been flourishing after fine-tuning his fundamental approach. His solid preseason and Kellen Clemens' struggles have Ainge challenging Clemens for the No. 2 job behind Sanchez.

He's certainly proving he can get the job done. The Jets have been very high on Ainge throughout training camp and the preseason, which led to speculation that with Sunday's acquisition of former Patriots quarterback Kevin O'Connell, Clemens eventually might be the odd man out.

"I know Mark's the starter and I know I'm the third-string quarterback right now," Ainge said. "All I can do is go try to play and play well. The best thing that comes from this isn't 'Am I competing for the second-string job?' or anything like that. What it is is my teammates know that if something were to happen - I'm two plays away, and if that happens - that I can go out there and I'll be able to perform and play, and that they can count on me."

Notes & quotes: The Jets released rookie punter A.J. Trapasso and signed P Steve Weatherford, who was cut by the Jaguars on Saturday . . . The Jets announced the eight players they've signed to their practice squad. They are RB Jehuu Caulcrick, DB Emanuel Cook, ILB Kenwin Cummings, S Keith Fitzhugh, WR Marcus Henry, DT Matt Kroul, OT Ryan McKee and TE Jack Simmons.

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